"Where do you live? Why do you live? How do you live?"
Do you remember those words, Ahmet, those sentences we would joke about? Those sentences in the English-language learners book your wife Figen would recite? We would laugh about how funny they sounded. How curious they were out of context, but how appropriate they seem now.
Where do you live?
Why do you live?
Why? Because you're human, because you are who you are.
How do you live?
As loving people. As those who have shown me what it is to be human. As Muslims.
I've thought long about those words, my friend, about what they mean — about whether you remember our time together. I do. I will cherish that time forever.
It seems so long ago now. Less than 10 years, actually, since we sat by each other in class in our first year of graduate school. You here from Turkey with your colleagues to study government at Indiana University. Me a young, 20-something-year-old looking for, well, what was I looking for? An education? A new start? Someplace new? People who didn't know me?
Do you remember, Ahmet, our class assignments, to be paired together, to be partners in that class? Do you remember driving to your apartment from campus to study and to — to what? — learn of each other? Do you remember the first time you told me of çorba, that delicious Turkish soup we came to talk about all the time, the only Turkish word I really recall? Do you remember the first time we studied late into the night and Figen cooked us a meal that stays with me to this day? And do you remember the Turkish coffee we sipped? I don't even like coffee, but the Turkish coffee, so rich and dark. It's — what is it? — magical. Do you remember?
I remember. I remember the nights we studied together as Figen made feasts fit for kings and queens. I remember you breaking your Ramadan fast after sundown, us saying the brief prayer together, and you biting into your first food (or water) in more than 12 hours. I remember you taking me to your mosque, and us feasting on the communal food prepared by your Islamic community in Bloomington, me a Catholic, you Muslims, others Jews, others non-religious, all of us united by the bond of our shared humanity and curiosity regarding one another. I remember telling you about Catholics fasting during Lent, how it was similar to a Ramadan fast, yet so different — the Catholic Lenten fast being much less stringent than the fasting of Ramadan.
But was it so different? Were we so different?
While our faiths and upbringings were in different parts of the world — from different traditions — we shared this bond of curiosity, of togetherness, of friendship, of understanding, of peace.
That's what I remember. That love you showed me; even here in my homeland of America, you opened your door to me. You and Figen cooked for me, but you left me with much more than a full stomach. You showed me the true meaning of humanity. You showed me the joy of what it is to be loved and accepted, no matter who I am.
You showed me what it means to be a good Muslim.
The joy I remember most is when you took me to see the Whirling Dervishes, a group of Turkish-Muslim dancers who promote mutual understanding and peace across nationalities and religion. That night we saw the Dervishes spin and twirl, and I saw my own expectations for what Islamic art and culture are spin as well, negating whatever notion I had of this being a "foreign" concept and making it feel truly symbiotic with the values I had been raised with as a Catholic: faith, hope and love — and the greatest of these is love.
That night, Ahmet, is a night I will remember for the rest of my days, because it was a night I realized that we are all more alike than we are different. You and your wife may speak a different tongue, may pray in a different way, may fast more fervently than I ever will, but we will whirl together, like the Dervishes. We will whirl in unison, spinning together in lockstep, our hands outstretched upward.
You remember all of that, don't you? I do. I remember it as our world remains uncertain, as governments respond to this or that event. I remember it as pundits talk, as politicians say what they will say to get what votes they want.
They say what they will. And I say this: Until we meet again, either in Turkey or here in the United States, or elsewhere in this world, please know that I will cherish the day we once again meet, kiss cheeks, eat çorba and sip rich Turkish coffee.
I want to have that memory once again, Ahmet.
I want to know our world will allow it.
Peace and love.
Your dear friend,