Next-door neighbors

Our house, a modest, one-story brick ranch structure, sits on a corner lot on a quiet residential street. On our west side a busy highway hums with traffic. Next door, on our east side, next-door neighbors for many years occupied a house similar in style to ours. Myrna and Argel, a delightful couple, older than Betsy and me, lived there for most of our 40 years here.

With the passage of time, Argel developed dementia and occasionally wandered off, and Myrna had to call me and other neighbors to search for him and walk him home again. After Argel died, Myrna came to depend increasingly on us for assistance with little tasks. Many times, she called to ask me to come over and show her again how to adjust her thermostat to control the heat and air conditioning. Eventually, Myrna’s two daughters placed her in an elder care facility about 30 miles away, where we were able to visit her occasionally.

After her death, Myrna’s family sold the house to an Islamic group seeking a place where they could gather for daily prayer.  We learned of this when one afternoon, four or five smiling people showed up at our front door, bearing a plate of food. We invited them in, learned their story and made new friends. Muslims pray up to five times daily, and their growing population in our area was searching for a quiet place where they could gather to pray and conduct worship without disturbing others. This former residence would work perfectly for them. We would be their next-door neighbors. How would we feel about this?

We welcomed them warmly, assured them of our support. Over the next few years, these good folks endured a lot of expense and legal hurdles, including zoning changes, municipal requirements and public hearings. We showed up at some of them to speak in support of their petition. Eventually, the house next door became the prayer and community center our Muslim friends. had sought.

This past weekend, they invited us to visit as they celebrated a break in their fasting during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which Muslims observe as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad.

We found 40 or so people or all ages occupying a single long room, On a signal, they all began eating, first light snacks, then, following prayers, they lined up at a buffet laden with more substantial and delicious-smelling food. Despite the unfamiliar environment, our hosts put us at our ease, and we enjoyed good conversation and some wonderful food. This break in their fasting clearly was a cheery social occasion, and we were warmly included in the loving circle.

As we made our way home, carrying a plateful of extra food (they insisted), we remarked on our good fortune on having such wonderful neighbors and our pride in living in a community that celebrates its diversity and welcomes everyone.

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