COVID Thriving late April 2020. Life continues, despite how extraordinarily lazy I’m feeling lately.
On Saturday, we throw our first ever sibling happy hour. I realized, while listening to an NYT Daily podcast on a funeral service conducted by zoom, that the only time my three sisters and I and my brother get together is for funerals.
Well, that’s gotta stop. We’re unable to get all five of us on at once, but we have four for a bit, then three, then four again. It’s a gas. We laugh a lot, and it’s just incredibly good to see everyone.
We schedule it as a recurring meeting on Saturday. Though this week, I’ve decided that, like my sister Lisa—”I’m totally fine being a designated driver,” she tells me, as the only one of us who doesn’t drink—I shall tackle it teetotal. This COVID thing could be a liver killer if I don’t take a break from all the chardonnay I’m sucking down. Also an ass widener. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Dahlem Conservancy here in Brooklyn, MI, is open for walks. On Sunday, Steve and I go. Unsurprisingly, so do quite a few other people. But it’s a big enough place we can easily keep our distance.
We stroll around at leisure. Dahlem is an open prairie-esque area; there are wooded parts, but mostly, you enjoy the feeling of spaciousness, the color of the sky, the bizarre architecture of fallen trees.
At one point, we notice a tree that’s sheared away from its trunk. Yet it still stands, leaning up against another, even taller tree. When it falls, will it make a sound? (Sorry. Some doors are just too irresistible to walk through.)
I have a HELL of a time doing anything at all. The aimlessness of my pre-#strandedinPeru days is back full force, maybe even worse. I want nothing more than to not write. Some ideas start to get me going, but…I just don’t go.
In Perú, I just wrote. I felt tremendous purpose. I’m starting to wonder if purpose, not happiness, is the key, the thing to seek. After all, happiness is so fleeting and then, when you achieve it and it inevitably ends, you’re all grouchy about it. What strikes me increasingly as being important is simply engagement.
There’s a project I thought about yesterday but that I avoided. I pick it up again.
Ramadan Days and Nights
I’m not sure what my first exposure to Arabian culture was, but I think it was probably the cover of The Arabian Nights in the Companion Library series that we had as kids.
The Companion Library was awesome. You would flip the book upside down, and there was….a whole other book! In this case, it was Aesop’s Fables.
I was a sucker, as a kid, for any kind of mythology. But I think even then that I realized the Arabian Nights were especially sexy. Maybe it’s all that purple, or the curvy, sinuous psuedo-Arabic script.
In any event, I have from that early intro felt drawn to the art and architecture of the Islamic World. The pictures of Ramadan during COVID that accompany this NYT article are especially beautiful. Just so you have an idea and are tempted to click through, this is a partial screenshot of a photo of a Brooklyn mosque, empty. (Brooklyn, NY, that is. I always have to make sure, since I sometimes still write “NY” instead of “MI” as my return address, having spent many years in both Brooklyns.) The photo is by Gabriela Bhaskar.
My Eid Story
Seeing the pictures reminded me of a story I wrote years ago on the holiday Eid, the feast that ends Ramadan, for the Ann Arbor News, back when there still was an Ann Arbor News. Since it’s not online and the paper no longer exists in any form, here’s an excerpt for posterity. I had help from local friends in the Muslim community as well as my niece, Amanda Blanton, and her husband at the time Aziz Mtaoua. Together, they have a son, Saleem, a true delight and one of my zoom school charges.
(The other day, when I asked Saleem why Little Red Riding Hood’s cape happened to be red—hoping to emphasize that red’s easy to see in the woods—he said, “Because it’s a sweet color.”)
The story I wrote was meant to act as a very basic primer on the fast/feast period. Between the stars, an excerpt.
For the entire seventh month of the Muslim calendar year, devotees don’t touch a bite of food or a drop of water between dawn and sunset—or according to tradition, as long as there’s “enough light to tell a black thread from a white one.” Muslim families gather before dawn for a healthy but not enormous breakfast to sustain them through the day. Then, until the sun goes down, they don’t eat or drink a thing.
Such deprivation sounds daunting. And despite the heat factor in many Muslim countries, which gives Ramadan the alternate name “the time of thirst,” it’s particularly tough to observe in non-Muslim countries, where the rest of us stuff our faces with abandon no matter what month it is. Nonetheless, Muslims look forward to the holiday. Everyone I spoke with said it was the time that they felt closest to God, and to other people as well.
Ramadan is life as usual—just with no food or water for a good part of the day. Yahiva Emerick, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide ot Islam, calls it “spiritual and moral boot camp.” After all, you don’t just abstain from food and water, but from all things haram, forbidden.
“Things like gossip, back-biting, or stealing can ruin the fast as much as eating a pork sandwich,” says my niece, Amanda Blanton. A month of solid praying, fasting, and generally doing your level best to follow the tenets of your creed preps mind, body, and soul for a year of right living.
At sunset throughout Ramadan, the fast is broken with dates and milk spiked with a few drops of orange flower water; traditionally the foods that the Prophet Muhammad ate to break his fast. Prayer follows, then a light dinner.
Aziz gave me his recipe for harira—my editor was so excited about this. I need to make it, a vegetarian version, and put it in the recipe section. For now, here’s a picture of my buddy Saleem, taken before our wedding. He’s a lot bigger now. Also, the shirt just happens to perfectly match our pillows. Talk about a sweet color!
The Marcus Aurelius Moment* of April 27
From my niece Amanda, that there is beauty in the most unexpected things—a flea market table, a peeling poster in VietNam, a forgotten alley in San Francisco. You just have to keep your eyes and heart open. And have that camera ready.
*In the first part of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman ruler details what various people in his life have taught him. To read the full intro to why I care about Marcus Aurelius, click here.