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The story is fiction. The subject is real.
Islam is the second-largest and fastest growing religion in the world, extended worldwide. The Muslim society, the followers of Islam, comprise a quarter of humanity. In-spite of how Islam is labelled in the news media, based on distortions and abuses, its development and its renaissance where powerful factors in the advance of civilization. It was one of main factors for the ending of the Dark Age in Europe.
Islam is one of the 'modern' great religions. It was created against the background of the cultural wasteland that the Roman Empire had created and had collapsed itself in. The envisioned role of Islam, by its founder Muhammad, may have been to give civilization a new start, which it did. From this background some revolutionary concepts emerged, from which customs developed that were not in its original design, but were added later by religious interpretation, such as the hijab and burka.
A number of these religious edicts are subject to immense controversy. The customs were added as required to met a human need and provide platforms for a workable civilization within the spirit of Islam. With it, Islam adds is own facet towards meeting the common aim of all mankind that ultimately no religion, ideology, or custom, but a deeper understanding of the principles of our humanity alone, can provide.
Here the story begins. It is situated at a youth conference in Suchumi at the Black Sea.
The audience was distinctly international. Every nation was represented, some in traditional costumes, some in exquisitely designed clothes. The woman sitting next to me, according to her nametag, was from Sweden. She wore a long black evening gown and a black vest graced by a simple silver chain.
I was captivated by her appearance, but also by something else about her. Her gown was more designed for easy walking and dancing than for sitting in tightly spaced theater seats. Whenever she crossed her legs the fabric would part and reveal her beautifully shaped legs that were more attractive to look at than the finest silk dress. She didn't seem to notice, or pretend not to notice my interest. The thought that she might let the sharing happen as an element of sharing her humanity, made the moment even more exciting, so that I couldn't help but respond to it. It created a feeling of closeness and of gentle peace, a peace that was also reflected in the music of Mozart's piano sonata that was performed from the vast volume of Mozart's compositions. Perhaps the piano piece had been chosen for its simple, soft melody, where nothing is forced and overpowering, or abstract, or remote; where the beautiful moment unfolds naturally. The melody reflected the peace of the satisfaction that I felt. It wasn't underscored by an unfulfilled longing, but by an exciting sense of peace. This peace was carried by the sufficiency of the moment that seemed complete in itself.
The feeling of sufficiency, and the peace that flowed from it, lingered. During the intermission I found it reflected as a feeling of gratitude for just being there among so many beautiful people, some with beautiful smiles and gentle and proud gestures.
When the concert finally ended, the Swedish woman, who was still sitting next to me, stood up and turned away to leave. Except as she did, she turned back momentarily with a big smile, which I promptly returned.
For this brief moment there was a link established that might have said more than all of Steve's words. She didn't growl with an angry look, nor was it a look of indifference that reflected a mere accommodation of my evident needs. Her smile was bright like a note of thanks, like she was saying, thank you for noticing me, for acknowledging that I exist, that I am a beautiful human being worthy to be loved and admired. I didn't realize at that moment that her smile reflected something far greater than I had understood.
For the moment I treasured the smile and the gentle expression that accompanied it. I treasured the brightness of the moment. It stood in contrast to the many angry expressions that I saw in many other faces.
Some time later I saw the Swedish woman again outside of the auditorium. She stood alone in front of a fountain. The spray of the fountain sparkled in the sunshine. I walked towards her, almost by instinct, but also reluctantly against my innermost fears, and against my timidity, all of them fighting for dominance to stop me. Who was I to approach such a beautiful person? "Don't do it!" said a voice within.
I must have smiled at myself when I actually succeeded.
"Would you kindly allow me to invite you for a cup of coffee?" I said to her, almost trembling, as if facing a firing squad, ready to be shot down.
"You are most perfectly welcome to do that," she answered, and curtsied slightly to make her reply match the style of my silly way of asking. Then she laughed. "The coffee shop's on the second floor. Shall we take the stairs?"
I felt stupid to be speechless. Still I managed to ask somehow to be forgiven for my brashness in asking her. I added that someone as lovely and beautiful, and as kind as she was, must also be a beautiful person that I really wanted to meet, though I almost didn't have the nerve to ask.
She replied with the same warm smile that she gave me in the auditorium, saying that a long time ago she found herself in a similar situation. She said that she had come to America as a tourist. She had read stories about the wide-open hospitality of the American people. So, there she was. She said she was in Florida, traveling with a tour group. The tour had stopped at a hummock in the Everglades, an oasis of trees in a wide world of shallow open waters. She said that she had relished the narrow walkways of the hummock, threaded through its jungle-like setting, and the private seclusion that some of the lookout places provided, all the while hoping for her prince to appear in this setting. She said she pictured him romantically emerging from somewhere out of the crowd of tourists that always converge at the tour stops. People had come on these tours from all over America, and maybe the world.
"And?" I asked.
She shook her head slightly and smiled. "Nothing happened; nothing at all. Nothing of that sort happened that day, the day after, or on any other day," she replied. Strangely, she said this with a smile and her smile was getting brighter.
"That must have been a lonely holiday for you," I said somewhat perplexed by the smile, "but it is all history now, right?"
"No it wasn't a lonely holiday at all. It became a beautiful holiday," she replied with a grin now. "It became a revelation."
As we were seated with our coffee at a table for two, by the window, she continued her story. "So, there I stood, at the end of a path leading to a lookout, overlooking the Everglades, the most perfect spot for a romance to begin, but there was no prince in sight, such as I hoped there would be. Not a single person had sought me out. No one was there to love me. No one was there at all, except me and myself. Then, suddenly something clicked in my head. 'Why not love yourself?' a voice kept saying to me from within. And did I have an answer ready. 'Self-love is more opaque than a solid body,' I said to myself and turned that suggestion away. I had read this in a book. I really believed it, too, which of course is true for the kind of self-love that manifests itself as greed, possessiveness, dominance, arrogance, and so forth. But at that moment I also realized that self-love can have a second meaning on a higher level, where it can mean the opposite. Can you understand what I am saying?"
"I suppose, you looked in a mirror and fell in love with yourself," I said jokingly. "I certainly would have if I were you."
"That's exactly what happened, except the mirror was in my mind. I looked at myself through that mirror. As I did so, I realized that I am a lovely, intelligent, sentient human being, capable of a great deal of joy and humor, and also love, endowed with the capacity for rich and interesting experiences. I realized right there and then, that I simply didn't need to wish for anyone else to be with me. I felt complete in myself. I began to take note of myself and to love what I saw. At the end of the bus ride that day, in a town called Flamingo, I treated my newfound friend to a fine steak-and-shrimp dinner, and I appreciated the gesture all at the same time. After supper we went for a boat ride together, through the Ten Thousand Islands area of the lower Everglades, just me and my newfound self. We were sitting right up at the front of the boat. And you know, that became a most wonderful trip to end a wonderful day."
from Chapter 3 and 4 of my novel: The Ice Age Challenge
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