I wish you had a Muslim neighbor. A home you can smell long before you arrive–fresh garlic and spices flowing out with the wind. I wish you could taste authentic Pakistani food made by sister-in-laws whose families happily live together. I wish you could see these women in their beautiful Hijab garments, and giggle when your son says they look like Jesus’ mommy. (And I wish you could see these women also giggle when you tell them what he said.)
I wish you had the chance to give them your heartfelt sympathy when they learn the news that many of their family members were murdered in their sleep in their home country, and this is why they are thankful to be in America. Oh, how I wish you could see the sparkle in four sets of perfectly brown eyes when you brought home another baby boy, a long-awaited tiny playmate.
I wish you had the chance to sit under a tree on a cool spring day with an elderly Muslim man and talk about the state of the world and the human condition. And how we both wonder if anyone has it right, because everything seems so wrong. I wish you could both agree to disagree on some beliefs and agree to agree on many. I wish you had a Muslim neighbor.
I wish you had a Jamaican neighbor. One who trimmed his hedges with an actual machete and didn’t waste the coconuts that fell from a palm tree in his yard. I wish you knew the little trick I know, how to “cure” hiccups in an infant. If you had a Jamaican neighbor you’d know how to wet a tiny piece of paper towel, place it on the baby’s head and watch them settle into sleep…hiccup-free. If you had such a neighbor you’d know which international grocery stores to avoid and which ones had the sweetest mangos. I wish you had a Jamaican neighbor.
I wish you had a Jewish neighbor. A family who serves you matzah and cheese as a snack and exclaims to you “MAZEL TOV!” when you graduate high school. I wish every time you saw Mogen David wine you remembered their children’s’ bat mitzvahs and how your Baptist dad got to wear a yarmulke, and how people hugged so tight and ate so much amazing food afterword.
I wish when you saw a group of Orthodox Jews walking down the street in your town, you quietly sang “Tradition” from Fiddler On The Roof, and secretly wished your life held that much tradition. I wish you could work for a Jewish family and have the honor of cleaning their home before Passover. Top to bottom, get every last breadcrumb out–tradition. I wish you had a Jewish neighbor.
Now, I wonder. What would any of the above neighbors write from their experiences with me? I hope they’d tell you about a family who doesn’t misuse their faith to justify anger and malice. I hope they’d recall a young family who didn’t teach their children to fear people who may dress or talk or worship differently from them, but instead rejoiced at the diversity surrounding them. I pray they would say to you, “I wish you had a Christian neighbor.”