I had never dated. Not once in my life. But that’s another story. If you want to know more about my date-less life, you will have to read my memoir. Anyway, back to where I was—my dates. For the last two years, I have been back-to-back in blind dates. Sometimes I meet them for coffee, sometimes for dinner, and sometimes I meet up in their homes, staying overnight. Separate bedrooms. I swear, these are purely business. Don’t believe me? What if I told you that I am married—happily. Still don’t believe me? Then I should tell you that my husband Khalid accompanies me. Perhaps I should clarify.
Two years ago I wrote a book and went on a book tour. Khalid would accompany me. Within six months, the book talk had morphed into the two of us doing talks on being Muslim in America, and we never stopped, clocking in over a 150 dates. I’d get an email from someone I don’t know, saying ‘I heard your talk and would love to meet up for coffee.’
‘Sure. I love coffee. It’s a date.’
Never met her, have no idea what she looks like, but we have a date. I’d walk into the coffee shop and a woman seated at a table would wave to me. Ah! That must be her. Or a man would write to me, ‘I just read your book. My wife and I would love to meet you and your husband over dinner.’
‘Sure. I love dinner meet-ups.’ We’d get to a table, and sit and wait for someone to recognize us. No one has ever failed in picking us out of a crowd.
Another email from another someone I don’t know: We heard you and your husband talk…[wherever]… and want to know if you would be willing to come to our town and give a talk on Islam.
‘Sure. We love to talk. Which town?’
‘St. Johnsbury, Vermont.’
Now we are looking at Google maps – where in the world is St. Johnsbury, VT?
We set a date.
‘We would like you stay in our home,’ says another invitee from Wisconsin. Or maybe this one is a ‘he.’ He says.
‘Mom, where will you be staying in Wisconsin?’ my son asks me.
‘At the home of our hosts.’ I say.
‘Who are they?’ A reasonable question.
‘I have no idea.’
‘What is their name?’ Another reasonable question.
‘Oh I have to look it up.’ I start scrolling through my emails.
‘Do you at least know what they look like?’
Our children have given up on us.
We pack our bags, get on a train (or plane), disembark, and just stand on the platform (or baggage claim), hoping to be recognized. Then someone will wave, and we know it must be our hosts. Into the car, to their home, upto the guest room. I text our sons: ‘Arrived safely. Wonderful hosts.’
We hang out with them in their kitchen, making breakfast together. Over blueberry pancakes dripping with syrup, and inhaling the aroma of fresh coffee, we talk about our children, he or she will point to photos on the kitchen wall, introducing us to their families, and then its off to the church (or synagogue) for our talk.
“Lunch will be at John and Mary’s, and dinner at Tina and Bob’s.” Our host tells us. John and Mary, another couple we have never met, welcome us into their living room, and have the dining table set for 10. They go through all that trouble, all that planning, just to bring people together. Another talk-at a library (or high school)-and then its off to Tina and Bob’s for dinner, with more guests. The cocktail hour chat is all about Islam, as is dinner. We relish those talks around the table; I love cleaning up after dinner over the host’s protests, ‘leave it, just sit and relax’, and I don’t love it when its time to leave. By now we know everyone in their families, their pets, their plants….
On the train ride home (or flight), Khalid and I can’t stop talking about all the new friends we made; how much richer our life is just knowing these wonderful people, how interested they were in getting to know a Muslim, how gracious they were in hosting us—two strangers with names hard to pronounce.
I flip through my emails.
‘May I introduce myself….our bookclub is reading your memoir….would you be able to join us at our meeting via Skype or Facetime? We are on the West coast.’
‘Sure. Its a date.’
A virtual blind date.