Paddle Away

“Sound carries across great distances. Friends paddle back when they hear our call.”


It is hard to watch the people we love drift away on other currents.

VT Paddle

Today I mailed two packages. One to Maine. One to California. Both to people with whom I have navigated significant stretches of my life. Both who have now paddled far from me.

A week ago I sat atop a rock in the middle of Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Next to me was my college friend Kat. It had been six years since we last saw each other (since she evacuated me, my husband, and my dog from a flooded portion of the Appalachian Trail).

VT Kat

We sat overlooking the lake on a gorgeous day, the last of the thunderstorms having past. 200 yards away my children played pirates on “kid rock” with my husband, their laughter and splashing echoing over the distance.

“I tell people you were my first friend at Carleton.”

Kat and I were floormates on 4th Burton. My memories of her are crowded with discovery. She introduced me to knitting, IKEA, and Tofu. She taught me that sushi and salad dressing were something that could be made (not just purchased). We spent countless hours in her room (on her blue IKEA bedspread) watching Dirty Dancing, making ill-fitting hats, and having discussions on such topics as why MY parents wouldn’t let me watch movies with sex scenes while HER parents refused to let her watch movies with violence.

VT Blueberries

See, while Kat and I shared a few notable traits (the most significant of which was that we were remarkable well adjusted only children) everything else in our childhood could not have been more different.

I grew up in the heartland of America, attending church three times a week, going to potlucks and family reunions. Watching “Full House” and eating casseroles that featured Velveeta.

She grew up in Vermont and at one point lived in a teepee while her parents finished their log cabin. Her father was a Zen poet. Her mother worked on various farm co-ops. She spoke of one Christmas where her father carved all of her toys out of wood. She cried. He stormed off into the snowy evening, more angry at the corruption of the capitalist construct than ever before.

Her stories, to me, seemed fantastic. Outlandish.

I on the other hand regaled her with stories of Bible Quiz Tournaments and Church camp. Sheep chasing and crawdad catching. These turned out to be equally bizarre to her.

On paper, we should not have liked each other as much as we did. There were no guarantees that the gravity which drew us to Carleton, to each other, would outlast the four years we resided there. She was an East Coast girl, I was a Midwestern girl.

And yet, we retained our hold on the other.

It is simultaneously invigorating and exhausting to be part of communities made up of individuals that at once have so much freedom and privilege to choose their path but, who for this same reason, can be just as easily separated from one another.

VT Fire

Stretched over distances, time zones, and continents. Former roommates in Montana and Massachusetts. Colleagues and friends in England and Nepal. Care packages and Christmas cards sent across the world. Intimacies and updates facilitated by Facebook and FaceTime.

Few people who I grew up with in Missouri drifted so far away from home. The fabric of their relationships has not had to stretch to such great lengths. They remain snug within their lives. Cozy. Smothered. Perhaps both.

As Kat and I spoke of our lives, comparing rural politics and urban uprisings, we looked out over the lake, to Kid Rock where my husband was warming the kids and feeding them wild blueberries.

VT Kid Rock

“Mommy Snuggle!” my son called out over the distance.

I turned to Kat, “It’s perfect. I can observe my children at a distance, but they have no access to me.”

“Maybe we should call this ‘Parent Island,’” she joked.

“Mommy Snuggle!”

“I’m too far away, Kip!” reaching my arms out to him in demonstration.


I looked at Kat with a bemused shrug, stripped off my outer layer, gave it to her to transport in her Kayak, jumped in to the cold water, and swam to Kid Rock.

That night we ate Hobo Dinner and S’Mores. Marveled at the blue moon and mournful Loon song. Kat woke early the next morning to paddle out. I woke with her, helped break down her tent, gave her a hug, and watched her paddle off.

It is easy in these moments to wish for a closer community. Friends who don’t move so far or so often. Fewer long goodbyes.


But if Kat and I were not prone to wander, not ourselves open to long walks in new directions, we would never have found each other in Northfield, Minnesota. Never have smelled the Malt-o-meal (and Turkey feed) on the air. Never have traded clothing and cultural norms.

Never learned to love a different variety of American girl.

Sound carries across the water. We may have to wait a minute (and they may be soggy upon arrival) but even friends at a distance paddle back when they hear our call.

“You got a date a with a date!” – Ramadan with the children of Islamth

It is Iftar at the Makkah Learning Center. I sit next to my student Anaum as an older women speaks to her and gestures to me. I assume she is speaking in Urdu, the language of Pakistan. When the woman walks away I whisper…

“What was she saying?”

Anaum whispers back…

“I have no idea. Every time she talks to me a just smile, nod, and say…Gi!”

“Gi,” in Urdu, means “yes.”

And this, my friends, is why I love learning alongside Muslim Millennials. Often they seem just as confused and bemused by their culture and religion as I am, and that’s just fine by me.

Anaum and Rabia, my Muslim Millennial guides at Makkah Learning Center...
Anaum and Rabia, my Muslim Millennial guides at Makkah Learning Center…

As the accidental sponsor of the Muslim Student Association at Arundel High School, I was in a near constant state of inquiry. My students, in turn, were in a constant state of amusement at this Midwestern white girl who was skipping blithely down the cultural-religious fault line of American Muslim Identity. (For a more in depth explanation of how I took on this role, refer back to #Muslims4Lent inspire #Christians4Ramadan).

Who’s in charge here??!! Was a frequent refrain at our Wednesday meetings. It couldn’t possibly be me. I mean, I know next to nothing about Islam.

5 pillars. 5 prayers. No pork. Submit. Did I get everything?

Consequently students from Pakistan, Sudan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Nepal, Egypt were thrust into the role of “experts” because whatever the limits of their own understanding, they certainly knew way more than this girl.

What happens if you can’t pray 5 times a day?

What constitutes and acceptable Desi profession?

Can you be a good Muslim in a mini skirt?

How does your faith differ from your parents?

Kosher and Halal aren’t the same thing?

Anaum has served as my particular spiritual guide as I began to bumble my way towards #Christians4Ramadan…



This brings us back to my first Iftar. Thank goodness Luwaila brought me back that Abaya from Sudan as a souvenir, or I would have had NOTHING to wear. As it was, I threw it on over my tank top, swapped my ball cap for a scarf, and Tah-dah! I blend right in!

A quick costume change in the car and I'm ready for Iftar!
A quick costume change in the car and I’m ready for Iftar!

(On a side note, can an Orioles ball cap work as a head covering in a pinch? Or is this haram? ‘Cuz it totally matches my Abaya.)

Rama-yep or Rama-no? #GoOrioles #BeMore
Rama-yep or Rama-no? #GoOrioles #BeMore

Anaum meets me at my car, adjusts my head scarf, explains that the fixture on top of the building lit with Christmas lights is a minaret (I mean, I knew it couldn’t be a Christmas tree), and leads me to the girls side of the divided tent where we will have Iftar.

I sit looking longingly at the bowl of watermelon in front of me.

“You got a date with a date!” She jokes as I take a selfie.

Date with date

Some of you certifiable adults and sanctioned Islamic experts out there may feel that teenagers teaching about the faith should itself be Haram. After all, what must my impression of Islam be when left to the theological understanding of Muslim youth?!

But I will tell you unequivocally, if NOT for them, I would never have begun to face my own fears and prejudices about Islam, never begun to reach out to Muslims in the schools and community of Maryland, and certainly never embarked on #Christians4Ramadan.

Thank them or blame them, your kids are why I’m here.

Sara shows us what Desi love looks like at our
Sara shows us what Desi love looks like at our “Blend Arundel” sidewalk chalk party…

Anaum leads me by the hand through what would otherwise be a prohibitively intimidating experience. She explains that the opaque tarp used to divide the men from the women used to be transparent, but a new Imam came and has more firm interpretations of these divisions…

“So now if you want to see your Bey, you gotta meet him in the parking lot!”

It’s commentary like this that humanizes what seems like a very foreign experience. She shows me where to take of my shoes in the mosque,  she jokes about the folks trying to cut in line for the food, she warns that we’re not allowed to have the pizza that sits next to the naan.

“Apparently that’s only for kids under 10. Believe me, I’ve tried.”

Her theological grasp of what is going might be a little thin. When I ask her to translate the call to prayer, she can’t quite remember. The older women next to her quickly jumps in to explain.

But give me a choice between Anaum and  Imam? I will pick the Anaum every time.

When I was in college, I was a member of the Carleton Bible Study Fellowship. This was a group completely led by students. Brandon Yerxa had founded it and was a senior when I met him. We met on Tuesday nights, read a passage, and then proceeded to discuss and debate, laugh and shout our way through these passages. Some of us were older than others. Some of us (this girl) had grown up in denominations where you memorized bible verses. Some of us weren’t Christians at all; just exploring our options.

Carleton Bible Study Fellowship 2001
Carleton Bible Study Fellowship 2001

Occasionally amidst this ecumenical chaos Yerxa would attempt to assert SOME divine authority. We called these his “bottom line” moments. But even these interludes of dogma could be easily obfuscated by the fact that…he was 22 and wasn’t the boss of us.

What might make pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams uncomfortable (lack of a centralized authority figure) was the very thing that made this sacred space welcome to the searching souls within.

There is a place for certainty…but there probably should be more places for confusion. And if we don’t make room for those spaces of doubt and questioning, young people inevitably forge them elsewhere…like in the shadows of the parking lot.

Islam, your children have led me. Clothed me. Fed me. Taught me. Forgiven me. Loved me.

Luwaila has not only bought me an Abaya, she loaned me her Obama Swag to wear to the inauguration...and let me keep it.
Luwaila has not only bought me an Abaya, she loaned me her Obama Swag to wear to the inauguration…and let me keep it.

I have also watched them do this for each other as they struggle to understand the religious and cultural riffs even within their OWN faith communities. It is easy for me to believe that Heaven AND Earth belongs to such as these.

Amina Love

All faiths have their “bottom lines.”

As I delight in my date, I will sit with the kids, smile, nod, and say…