I was engulfed by hugs. This is not what I had come prepared for. I had been invited to come to a Wellness Day celebration at a church, where I had taken a table in the exhibit hall, to display my wares—my book. I had lugged the bag-on-wheels, laden with heavy, hard cover books, from apartment to cab, down the stairs of Penn Station which badly needs a make-over, up the stairs at Huntington Station in Long Island, into the Uber, out of the Uber…and the first thing I said to my host Aneela—also my sister-in-law—as I huffed and puffed up the stairs to the church, “You have to help me sell all these books. I am not lugging back this load.” “They will go like this,” she snapped her fingers. I walked in with the mind-set of a business woman, as I set up my table, assessing the most prominent view for displaying the books. Within 90 minutes, I had converted—not to Christianity, but to a state of mind. And it was the hugs that did it.
First it was the ‘introductory hugs’. Aneela was walking me around the hall, introducing me, and each time I’d get a warm hug, an endearing bright-eyed look, and smile that would make anyone feel welcome. Then it was the ‘mandatory hugs’. Rev. Joanne invited us for services, and I felt the tug. I left behind my table—unattended—and made my way to the sanctuary. It was a celebration of spiritual wellness. I swayed with the music, sang-along Turn, Turn, Turn to the strumming of the guitarist, and took it all in. “Now give each other a hug,” Reverend Joanne said. Everyone got out of their seats and the aisle was taken over by people giving one another a hug, meeting & greeting, chatting & listening, and it went on and on, until Joanne called us back to our seats. I had never received so many hugs from strangers in one sitting. It ended with us all calling out the greeting of peace in all faiths, Salaam, Shalom, Peace, Om Shanti, Blessed Be, Guru Rakha….. I walked out on a spiritual high.
Back at my table, my mantra had changed. When people stopped by to chat about Threading My Prayer Rug, I sensed that the tone of my sales pitch had shifted. I was now talking spirituality in Islam, peace among communities, love for thy neighbor, awakening of the soul. I was surrounded by the energy of healing—the whiff of citrus hand cream, the clinking of beads and charms, the hum of music, the aroma of freshly baked buns, the clicking of pebbles, and the chatter and buzz as the Pakistani-American ladies who had descended at the church, sampled the oils, held up the chakra jewelry, checked out the steeped tea, and sampled the natural beauty products.
This was the Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship’s Wellness Expo, in Melville, New York, and after a two-hour ride from home, I was at home.
I did come back empty handed, but fully loaded with treasures of the mind and heart.
It didn’t end there. That was Saturday. Sunday morning, I was at the St. Francis of Xavier Church in NYC, giving a book talk to parents of Sunday school children. I guess this was my weekend of churches. Luz Marina Diaz had scheduled this reading even before the book was published. This church was one of the first to open their doors to people suffering from AIDS; they invite my husband every year to talk about end-of-life care; and when celebrating the week of Mercy, had asked me to read from the Quran. Getting back to the book reading, one knows that the audience is connecting with you when they respond; and hearing their laughter, chuckles, and collective sighs and hums, I felt that we were one. And when the lineup for the book signing began, we ran out of books, and had to take orders. I only wish that I have more time to talk to people when I am signing the books for them. Those are precious moments, and I have to be speedy, so as not to keep the others waiting. I wish!
Last weekend, I was at a synagogue for the weekend of Twinning, (my blog) and this weekend it was church-days. This is the America I love; the America that opens its doors to Muslims, makes us feel welcome; where people give up their time to sit and listen to what we have to say, empty their wallets to buy books that Muslims have written, take the time to read what they have penned, and invariably ask the question, ‘How can we help?’
Irrespective of tomorrow’s election outcome, this spirit will endure. I just hope it prevails.
Audio book available, narrated by author