Ritual Confessions

March 13, 2008

Thank you, K

Filed under: Uncategorized — elissakaren @ 2:49 am

My 20-year high school reunion was held last November, and one of the most gratifying aspects of my experience of it was seeing — probably for the first time since graduation — a woman I’ll call K. I hadn’t known K. very well, but she was an absolutely lovely and very gifted girl. Because of the nature of what she told me at the reunion, I’m afraid to give specific details about her. But although we weren’t close back then (she was always very shy and quiet), I admired her a great deal.

Her presence at the reunion was a surprise and in fact, she hadn’t planned to come. But a classmate tracked her down at the last moment and because she was going to be in the city anyway, she agreed to drop in at one of the weekend’s activities. Twenty years later, she was literally even more beautiful than she had been then. Somehow we found ourselves talking in unexpected depth. Again, without giving identifying details, she had been a great artist and is now no longer practicing within her artistic medium. Her experience of it had broken her heart, and I could relate to that very well.

Probably most artists experience their creative practice as a spiritual experience on some level. Maybe that is why our conversation turned to spirituality. At any rate, she told me that she had found a new spiritual outlet, but she wasn’t comfortable saying more about that. I don’t know why she changed her mind, but after a while, she told me she would disclose the details to me if I promised never to tell anyone else about it. Of course I agreed, and she told me that she has embraced Islam as her religion. She was afraid for people to know about it because she and her husband both work in an academic setting, and she feared that the stigma attached to Islam in this country could threaten their standing in the university and the community. I found it heartbreaking that she felt frightened talking about her spiritual path.

Today I received a mass “chain” e-mail from another former classmate. I was one of well over a hundred recipients and the message ended with a directive to forward it on to as many people as possible, with the goal of reaching 40,000,000. The e-mail was urging everyone to outrage because, it stated, “This week, the University of Kentucky removed the Holocaust from their school curriculum because it ‘offended’ the Muslim population, which claimed it never occurred.”

This report did not ring true to me and it only took about a minute of internet research to find out that the story is false. I sent this reply to everyone on the list:

“The Holocaust happened, but this incident didn’t. And e-mails like this create inflammatory feelings between Jews and Muslims. Let’s check our information before adding fuel to this fire.”

There is no question that K’s confidences in November helped me to think about this e-mail differently. I believe that six months ago, I might have unthinkingly passed it on or just ignored it. I have to admit that even sending the reply that I did gave me a moment of pause; I wondered if the people on the list (many of whom had been in my class) would resent me for writing it. (So far, only one person has answered, and it was to agree with what I wrote.)

Anyway, I feel grateful that K. trusted me enough to tell me about her spiritual orientation. I feel that our conversation left me with an awareness of this issue, and a way of thinking about e-mails like this one, that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have had. And the motivation, also, to speak out about it when circumstances like these arise.



  1. “Enlightenment” comes at odd times and from strangers. It sounds like that’s what happened here. I’m sure it helped her in some way to take you into her confidence like that. I think she needed someone she could confide in and you were there. I sounds like you helped each other.

    Comment by Corina — March 13, 2008 @ 4:15 am

  2. The blogger named Square1 who comments chez Rochester is a convert to Islam, and often writes on her blog about her experiences with prejudice against her religion … she lives in Missouri or Mississippi, I think. It disturbs and saddens me that freedom of religion isn’t really all that free, in some ways.

    Comment by davidrochester — March 13, 2008 @ 5:47 am

  3. Hi, I’m Square1, and I am a convert to Islam. *Waits while everyone says, “Hi Square1.” LOL. I live in Tennessee, am a mother of three, a wife of ten years, a writer, a student, and an artist. My husband was the first to convert to Islam. It is difficult to tell people at times. My mom knows and is fine with it, my grandparents on the other hand I have not told. My in-laws don’t know what to think. I am glad that you sent out a response t the chain letter. There are a great many misunderstandings on both sides of the fence about the Holocaust and the events that transpired afterwards. Research that I’ve done, has surprised me in what is not included in our history books about the subject. The holocaust most certainly did happen. I have a blog friend that was the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and it has made an incredible impact on her life. In any case kudos to you for being supportive of your friend, and if she ever would like to talk to other converts, even if on-line, we have a whole community of them here where we live.

    Comment by Square1 — March 13, 2008 @ 3:40 pm

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