|Photo by Faizal Riza MOHD RAF|
The checkout lines were really busy, and I had a cart full of stuff, so I asked the woman behind me if she’d like to go ahead of me, since she only had a couple of things.
“No, that’s fine,” she said with a friendly smile. “I’m not in a hurry. But thanks for asking.”
When my turn came at the register I asked the cashier, Fadilah, “So, are you ready for Christmas?”
As I said it I looked across the counter at her and noticed the hijab she wore over her hair.
“Oh, I don’t celebrate Christmas,” she told me.
Embarrassed by my negligent obliviousness, I said, “Of course you don’t. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t assume, should I?”
“That’s okay,” she told me, with perfect graciousness.
I stuck my card into the chip reader. “Are there any holidays you celebrate around this time of year?” I asked her.
And we had an interesting discussion over the next couple of minutes as she rang me up. I learned a bit more about Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and that it took place in June this year, but would move back about ten days next year. She talked about the Hajj.
“Have you ever done the Hajj?” I asked her.
She shook her head with wide eyes, “Oh, no. I haven’t been able to.”
“That’s really an intense experience, isn’t it?” I asked, recalling a documentary I once watched about an American who made the arduous, once-in-a-lifetime journey to Mecca.
Fadilah nodded. “It’s a pilgrimage, like those who travel to Jerusalem to observe Easter.” Then she told me, “One must be completely free of all debts and obligations before making the Hajj. I have a seventeen-year-old daughter, so until she is eighteen and a responsible adult I cannot make a Hajj.”
“In fact,” she went on to answer my follow-on questions about debts and mortgages and such, “one must be completely clean and unencumbered financially, physically, and spiritually before undertaking the Hajj.”
Wow. That’s pretty serious. It might behoove me to give my own faith practices that kind of weight.
I’m Jesusian myself. Until very recently I would’ve called myself an Evangelical Christian, but lately the words and actions of a large number of white Evangelical Christian leaders and their adherents have made me uncomfortable associating my character with their lot, so I’ve coined the term Jesusian, or follower of Jesus, for myself. In fact, I just added it to my computer’s dictionary, so the word won’t get that red, squiggly line underneath when I type it from now on.
Fadilah asked me what holiday I observe this time of year.
I smiled and nodded. “Christmas.”
She finished ringing me up and wished me very happy holidays, as I did her as well. Then I turned back to the woman behind me in line.
“I’m sorry it took so long with all my stuff,” I apologized again. “Thanks for being patient.”
Her demeanor this time was cooler. She didn’t smile at me, but appeared almost nervous, or maybe annoyed. She mumbled, “It’s fine.”
I smiled and she looked away.
Huh. I wonder what changed over those couple of minutes.