I didn’t work on Sunday and I called in sick on Monday. On Tuesday, when I got to work, one of the first people that called was my friend and co-worker Waleed, who was off for the day.
He asked if I was feeling better. (I was.) And he told me he had a couple of reservations he needed to give me, but most importantly, he wanted to tell me how sorry he was about what had happened in Orlando.
You know, we gays we do have this tendency to make everything be about ourselves. I think it’s because most of us have an excess of narcissism and empathy in our DNA. ( I’m not a scientist, so that’s just a theory.) As we watch the news and read the many articles about the victims and the survivors and the families, we grieve for Orlando. But also, we watch the scroll of men and women and think, he looks like a guy I dated in New York or she looks like someone I used to temp with at that law firm. We feel a deep connection to those lost and those struggling to stay with us. And of course, though it happened miles away, on another coast, if feels personal.
Waleed grew up in Afghanistan but has lived in Southern California for decades. If you are familiar with Beverly Hills’ luxury hotels, you likely know him because he is famous around here, having worked in the best properties.
What makes Waleed special, and I’ve witnessed it where we both work now, is that he always treats every guest as if he is welcoming them into his own home.
I believe this kind of graciousness is rooted in his culture, in his homeland, and in his upbringing.
Yesterday on the phone, he repeated over and over how much he loved his friends in the gay community. “You are my good friend, ______ is my good friend, ______ is my good friend. ______is my good friend.” He didn’t have to tell me, I see everything and I know how much he loves his gay friends.
The store was not yet open, no one was around to see, but a few tears spilled out as I talked to my friend.
“Waleed, you gotta stop, you’re making me cry.”
“I want you to know that what happened is not what I believe. That is not Islam.”
“I know that.” And my heart broke a little more that we live in a world, where when someone commits a crime, everyone else who is from the same country or the same religion, somehow feels like they need to apologize. That when Waleed tells people, “I am from Afghanistan,” he always has to wonder what conclusions people will draw about him.
We have worked together a year now, we learn more about each other as we go, but when he talks about his home, his eyes dampen, his smile deepens, he has so much love.
For some reason, my swimming pool received a large shipment of single serving Quaker blueberry pecan granolas. I’ve been bringing them into work by the handful and sharing with anyone who wants them.
No one reacted as enthusiastically as Waleed. “These are perfect, I can eat these on my drive home.” You may or may not know that we are in the middle of Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammed. So Waleed can only eat or drink from sunset to dawn, from June 6 to July 5. It’s a discipline that I don’t know that I have, but he does it every year. With joy he does it because his faith is that important to him.
To lighten the conversation yesterday, I told him how on Sunday, I kept thinking about a conversation we’d had just two days before. He told me he woke in the middle of the night, hungry, but not wanting to eat anything too heavy. He remembered the granola. He told me that he got up, made a cup of tea and ate his granola. And he told me he prayed for me, his friend, who had given him the previous snack.
And on the phone, we laughed about that darn granola, that it could be the building block of a friendship.
Of course, many things are building blocks for friendships. I told him, “Maybe the one good thing that can come of this is that it will bring us all closer, that we’ll realize we are all in this together.”
He agreed with me. We said our goodbyes, I told him to enjoy his two days off, to get some rest.
I don’t know if tragedies do bring us closer together on a global level. I’ve certainly seen evidence indicating otherwise.
But I do know this, what happened in Orlando, deepened my friendship with Waleed. I feel I need him more. Though, I don’t really know, I think he needs me a little more too. That maybe there was this part of him that was unsure when he called on Tuesday, hesitating to dial the number. But what we both found, does not surprise me. I am his friend, as he is mine.