A simple smile ushered in wonderful changes to my lackluster life. That was a hot, blistering day in July 2013 when I was on my volunteer shift at the airport. A Muslim woman, Diba, appeared frazzled so I asked if she needed guidance. No, she said, but our personalities meshed right away. We talked for a few minutes then exchanged phone numbers. Soon, Diba and I talked or texted almost every day. A dinner at Diba’s home soon followed. Her Afghan family and friends welcomed me as one of their own. I was so happy, so at ease.
There were many family celebrations, dinners and sadly one funeral. A loved one passed away and I mourned his loss with the rest of the family. I am sorry that he left this world so soon, so suddenly. His unexpected passing deeply touched his family, friends and neighbors. Their heartache is mine too.
Last week, one of Diba’s young relatives graduated from sixth grade. The family invited me to both the school ceremony and the gala celebration several days later. What an honor to be included among so many kind, caring and compassionate Afghans who I have come to know and love. In the early days, many people referred to me as Diba’s friend. Now they know my name. I feel part of the Afghan community, even though I was born in New York. If it wasn’t for short-term memory loss from a brain injury, I might even learn Dari, the common language of Afghans. Nonetheless, I am thrilled to be part of Diba’s large extended family where no one is a stranger. Everyone is welcomed.
At the school ceremony, what a joy to see her nephew as he paraded across the stage to receive his diploma. Six years of studies, exams, hard work and extra-curricular activities earned him passage to junior high school where I expect he will perform at the same level of excellence. Solid family support contributed to his overall success too. Actually, a network of family support wraps around everyone and holds them close to each other with love, sharing and warmth. The room glows when the family is together. I look forward to the next invitation because Ramadan, the holiest of Muslim holidays, is coming soon.
A few evenings ago, I prettied myself to attend the festive graduation party. Guests including family, friends, a few teachers and classmates honored him with praise and acclaim for the delightful young man he’s become. All students work hard throughout their academic careers but Diba’s nephew had to go the extra mile because he was born blind. That didn’t stop him from earning good grades, making friends, and performing in the school band. He is loved by all including me. I wish him the very best as he moves onto junior high school. If you stumble my friend, the loving family surrounding you and your incredible personal strength will help you pick up and move forward. I love you Diba and your family. Thanks for loving me too.
PS No one in Diba’s family asked me to convert to Islam. Their kindness, mercy and love invited me to learn more about their religion, which I did. I read books about Islam and went to Friday prayer services at a mosque. Eventually, I said this is for me too and I became Muslim.