So Close, and Yet So Far

May 3, 2015

A couple months ago, my wife and I had dinner with Shlomo Levin and his wife, Noa. It was Shabbat, and we all shared a kosher meal at their house. Shlomo and Noa recited (or sang) the traditional Hebrew prayers before and after dinner. The Levin children were there too, along with a couple other guests. Karin and I were the only non-Jews at the table, but we got along well. We talked mostly about work and our families. We talked about the things that are common to all people.


At one point during the meal, my wife, Karin, made a joke about Catholics, which we are. It was humorous to us, but the remark only elicited bemused looks from everyone else at the table. There was some polite laughter, and then a change of topic. After that, I noticed several instances where there were disconnects in our conversations. Our hosts were sometimes talking about Jewish subjects that were alien to Karin or myself, and sometimes Karin and I mentioned things about our church that clearly did not resonate with anybody else. It struck me that, although we were all friends, we were still worlds apart.


I have had discussions with my friend, Mohamed, that have been similar in some ways. Mohamed is a devout Muslim and he lives his tradition. We have things in common, and we value our relationship, but sometimes it feels like we come from different planets. Both Mohamed and I have certain unspoken assumptions about life that probably should be spoken, because these underlying views make it difficult for us to connect at times. I know that for my part, I occasionally think, “What is this about?”, when we have coffee and conversation. I suspect Mohamed has similar thoughts.


Once in a while, I go to the Sikh temple to pray. It’s a quiet place, and the people there know me by sight. There is one older priest, Gur Tan Singh, who has dark eyes and a beard of biblical proportions. I have seen him dozens of times, but we haven’t ever had a conversation that has lasted longer than a minute. He always makes sure that I get a serving of prashad, a kind of Sikh cookie dough that is in a bowl next to the altar. We are friends who know nothing of each other’s lives.


I have interacted with people from different faith traditions for many years now. Later this morning, I will go to Zen practice, and then to the synagogue. I have learned many things over time. I have learned that I am not these other people, and I never will be. I skirt the edges of their lives, and they touch mine. We are friends, and we care for each other, but we live in different realities. We see things differently, and that is often for the good. Our respective traditions make us who we are. We learn from each other, but we do not become the same.


We are close, but yet so far.

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