No matter how comfortable I get in my own little rut, I can always count on friends and acquaintances to commit drive by assaults on that comfortable little rut. One friend in particular seems to find the edges of my comfort zone every couple of years or so. I have known this younger fellow for maybe 20 years now. I first met him when he was an awkward teen trying to figure out which way was up. 20 years later he is still looking.
I feel a special kind of kindred feeling with this guy. We both grew up feeling out of place and not really like one of the family. He had more trouble with it than I did. He had good reason. At least my out of place feeling was never thrown in my face by the loved ones around me. His was. I guess our situation as children was not unusual, just some of the normal lousy dynamics that can exist in a dysfunctional family comprised of more than a few spouses, ex spouses, and half siblings all tossed together. I weathered my storm. He is still working through his even though he is well into his mid thirties.
So a few years ago my friend is in the bike shop. I had not seen him in quite awhile. The normal how ya doins, and bike related subjects passed the time. Out of nowhere, my friend blurts out that he is Gay. Suddenly the conversation stops. He is looking hard at me for some facial expression that will let him know how I feel about that.
"Yeah, so what. Good for you. Told your family yet?" I know enough about his family to know this little revelation had to go down like a fart in church.
"Most of them won't talk to me now."
"So. It's a win/win situation for you. You get to be open about what we all knew anyway and they leave you alone now. Isn't that what you want?"
"I want them to accept me for who I am."
I am no mental health professional with degrees, but I know this guy and he has always done whatever it took to be noticed in a family that could not have cared less for him. "Well, they noticed you. Happy now?"
The conversation went this way for way too long. It got to the point that I wanted to boot him out of my shop. He was Gay. He was still miserable. Life still sucked. I get it. You can leave now.
But then his tendency to be a gossip kicks into gear. He begins to list all the recent trysts he has had and with whom. All local folks I either knew or had dealt with at some point in the shop. Several of them were closet Gays I guess and this guy was outing them in my bike shop. This made me very uncomfortable. I did not want to hear about it. He was Gay. Let's leave it at that. I have no interest in knowing with whom or how many. He left.
Over the following couple of years I would see this fellow on occasion. He still owned bikes, but rarely rode them. He was more about owning nice bikes than actually putting them through their paces. About a month ago he swings in. Again with the how ya doins and normal catching up conversation. And again out of the blue he tells me He is moving out. He will no longer be staying with Mom.
Now this was news. He had lived with his mother since the day I met him 20 years previous. My interest had been lit up. Then I made my mistake. I asked him why.
"I want to move closer to my mosque. The closest one to Sanford is in Dover."
"Your Mosque? What the Hell are you talking about?"
"Oh yeah. I am a practicing Muslim now"
Again he looks at me hard looking for my reaction. For once I have nothing to say. I have known born again Christians, a few folks who converted to Judaism, and several who had found Buddha. But never in my 57 years have I known someone to convert to Islam. I was caught way off guard.
All I could muster up was something like, "Islam huh? What's your Mom think? What about the rest of the clan?"
"I gave up caring what they think. Islam has saved my life. I have a new family now."
I have learned the hard way that freshly born agains are very sensitive to any criticism one might have about their new found faith. Certainly letting them know my feelings regarding organized religions is not the first thing I should be assaulting them with. So I kept my mouth shut.
"Well, what do you think?" My friend is insisting on getting some kind of reaction. What a pain in the ass he can be.
"You don't want to know what I think."
"Yeah. Yeah I do."
So I told him my opinion on organized religion. Any organized religion. I was not flattering nor was I going to water down my disgust for organized religions. I finished with how I thought it was great he thinks he has finally found his path to Happiness, but if he was looking for anything more from me, he was pumping a dry hole.
That was several weeks ago. Last Thursday, my friend stopped by the shop to buy a couple of tubes. At least that was his excuse. Before he left, he handed me the prayer beads and the copy of the Qur'an you see at the top of the post. I remember standing there with what had to be a dumb look on my face. Had I not let him know in no uncertain terms that I was a happy Heathen, Infidel, person who did not pray? And here he is handing me the tools of a religion with the obvious goal of trying to convert me.
I said thanks much, but don't expect me to be buying a prayer rug to go with them. I brought the book and the beads home. I have the beads hung from the same hook my cable to transfer photos from camera to puter hangs. The Qur'an I have placed next to the Bible I have which sits next to my Dictionary, my Thesaurus, and my political theory reference book. I have actually cracked it and read some of it.
The obvious contradictions my friend wears so publicly now could only happen in this country I think. Or a country that embraces the type of diversity we do. While I think he still has not found himself yet, at least he lives in a place that allows him to keep looking. I really do hope he locates some kind of center in the mess that is his Life. And more power to him if he finds it using the Qur'an.
Keep the Faith....................
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