[ Demnat, Morocco ]
Burrowed deeply underneath multiple blankets and a sleeping bag, a screaming bladder and the morning call to prayers interrupt my slumber. I hear the hotel manager’s devout stirrings and noises of a waking city, and fail miserably to reenter the woozy grasp of slumber. A fuzzy thought floats into view:
Merry Christmas? That’s today, right?
That does it. I wake fully, ponder-fearing the room’s frigid air from the safety of my nest. The cold air hurts, but the muezzins’ calls offer a consolation prize. There are several mosques within earshot, and I float into action on dissonances appearing and subsiding in unexpected ways; my first few chilled, over-the-covers moments counterbalanced by auditory delights.
Before long I’m wandering down the main street, where women prepare Moroccan crepes and flatbread in front of small shops while men in hooded robes huddle like seals in patches of sunlight, drinking tea, procrastinating. Shops open, slowly, and everyone greets one another and the new day. A gendarme makes his way downhill in uniform, on his way to work, and touches the brim of his hat to say Salut!
Just another day here, full of gratitude and connection and smiles and good will. Sure, there’s some pre-caffeine grumbling of the sort found in all cultures and epochs. But mostly? Good will.
As the coffee takes effect, that first fuzzy thought returns: Merry Christmas. For a small portion of the world’s population, that’s what today is—not just another day, but “Christmas.” I spend a long while on this Christmas morning thinking about just what kind of significance this day has, should have, is purported to have, might potentially have had, and many other what have yous. I did some reading, some writing, and lots of deleting before giving up and drinking more coffee. All the comments conjured regarding this holiday went the wrong way, said the wrong things. Coffee was better. Giving a few dirham (the local currency) to the local poor who came asking (as per the Third Pillar of Islam) was better. Trying my best to chat with the locals in broken French (mine, not theirs) was better. It was all somehow much more Christmas-y.
Still, I wanted to say something to my friends around the world who celebrate Christmas, or who have wished me a Merry Christmas in solidarity (as many of my Hindu and Buddhist friends do). I wanted to say something to you. And this is all I’ve got:
Thank you all for being the gifts that you are. Thank you for giving me encouragement, and hope, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning (well, out of tent in the morning, but you get the idea). Thanks for being part of the story of my life, for your compassion, and wisdom, and love freely given. Thanks for allowing me to be part of your families and lives and nations and religions and ceremonies and private moments of triumph and sadness.
Thanks for sharing your dreams and believing in mine. I shall endeavor to give in kind.
Wherever you are, and whatever it means to you, I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Krismasi Njema, Joyeux Noël, क्रस्मसको शुभकामना, Feliz Navidad, Frohe Weinachten, and—yes you—میری کرسمس
Or whatever. That’s the best I can do.
From the other side of the world,
Let’s just say my Islamic friends have got it right:
As-salaam alaikum, (Peace be Upon You),