I entered the room very quietly. Yesterday when I came to visit she was asleep, and I did not want to disturb her. Today she was up watching a game show on TV with her son.
When she saw me her mouth widened in a smile. She had lost her lower teeth, but her smile was no less attractive. In spite of her disease and her weakness, her face gleamed.
Her name is Amina, which she told me is Arabic for "one who believes." She had converted to Islam many years ago, and finds it a deep source of faith. She is an African-American woman in her early fifties, with the frail and wasted body of one who is dying of cancer. I am a music therapist working in a hospice, and all of my patients are terminal.
She turned down the TV and asked me to sing to her, something soothing. Afterwards she told me a little of her story, how she had found faith and what it meant to her. "I have several definitions of love," she said, "and I always like to know what people think it is."
For Amina, love means union of all people under belief in one God. "It's so simple," she said, "but people make it all so complicated."
Then she turned to me and asked, "You're Jewish, aren't you?"
I answered, "How did you know? Do you think I look Jewish?"
"It's not just in the look," she said. "You have a kind heart and you try very hard to do good."
I told her I could definitely see the kindness in her. We held hands for a long moment, and she said, "I think we're going to be very good friends."
We never spoke about the Middle East. She did not bring it up, and for me to have done so would have been a breach of ethics. But we did not need to talk about it. We met the way people on opposite sides of a fence should meet, seeing each other instead of our ideas about each other.
The Muslim people are not the enemy of the Jews. Our common enemy is a set of ideas and beliefs that encourages people to sap the humanity from each other, to see others as excluded and hated by God, when belief in one God should lead us to belief in one humanity.
So often when Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs, get together even under friendly circumstances, the motive is at worst "I want to defeat you" and at best "I want you to understand my agenda." But peace will never come until we learn to accept each other on the most basic human level. Hospice teaches that no matter who we are, or to what religion or ethnicity we belong, our bodies get sick and die, and then it won't matter whether the patient or the caregiver is a Jew or a Muslim. It won't matter, that is, unless we carry our prejudices with us to the grave.
September 11, 2002 (one year after)
Peace with Realism