It was a typical Thanksgiving table with carved turkey, mashed and marshmallow sweet potatoes, salads, cranberry sauce, and apple pie. But new aromas rose from the table – some traditional dishes from Southeast Asia.
This all came about when my husband and I were invited to join a pastor, his wife, and young adult son to celebrate the holiday. We were also told that a young woman from Bangladesh, working on her Ph.D. at Northern Illinois University, would also be present. As it turned out, she came with two of her friends, visiting from Minneapolis. From India and Bangladesh, each was on a different career path as well as having a different religious identity – Christian, Muslim, Hindu.
We had a delightful time together. There were personal stories, playful kidding, and lots of laughter, as if we’d all known each other for a long time.
Later I reflected, how did this happen – these surprise connections between strangers with differing ethnic, national, and religious identities?
Was it celebrating a holiday together? Partly, but there was more going on. Crediting our hosts, as we took our places at the table, they announced that the three foreign visitors were now part of their family – a boundary-breaking assertion. Sincere and open questions about our lives, like “How have you been treated as a woman in your work?” led to discovering similarities across our diverse backgrounds and experiences, while differences were also honored. Spontaneous and humorous interchanges helped in this bonding process.
Underlying all of this, I believe, was a common yearning for an authentic experience of community, something I hope we all will pursue in our splintered, diverse society.