faith, life, people, ramadan

On bookstores, kindness, and nur

After a late evening the night before, K took the kids in the morning and let me sleep in. When I woke up, I took the kids to Barnes and Nobles to shop for a birthday gift for one of my best friends while he napped. It’s always a pleasure to be in a bookstore. To smell fresh books and gaze longingly at pricey blank journals waiting to be scribbled and doodled on.

Picking out a few promising books I settled down at a kiddie table to peruse the options while my eldest son played at the train table nearby and my baby lay in the stroller discussing politics with his stuffed moose. Then I heard a voice. Nursery rhymes, please. If you could direct me to where they might be? I looked up. A woman talking to an employee at the picture book section. She might have been in her early sixties. Her dark hair in a carefully coiffed bun. Her dress, blue silk with a sleek brown belt to cinch her tiny waist. She could have been Audrey Hepburn’s sister. She exuded beauty.

After selecting her books, she walked up to me. I have to tell you, she smiled. Your baby is darling. She stopped to talk about babies with me. She asked his age. His name. She cooed at him. He flapped his legs and arms and squealed back at her.

I saw her again at the checkout line. She stood infront of me, a considerable line growing behind us. I didn’t know the little one had an older brother, she exclaimed. She kneeled down to talk to Waleed who bashfully hid behind my skirt. Just then her eye caught a woman standing in the distance who had a stack of books piled fifteen high. And waiting in line at the wrong spot. Ms. Hepburn stood up and ushered her to cut her place in line. The woman brushed past her, unsmiling without a word of thanks and dumped her books on the checkout counter.

I saw her again as I folded the stroller into the car and closed the trunk. She walked past me and, not breaking her stride, called out to me, Your children are beautiful, thank you for sharing them with the world.

Thank you! I replied. Thank you for being so sweet.

I watched her receding figure and wished I added thank you for being the kind of person that makes the space around them beautiful by the grace of their words and the generosity of their smile. Someone who sees beauty in the world because they are beautiful, not just in their appearance but in the place that matters, their heart. There should be more people like you.

I want to be more like you.

I know so many religious people. Who fast, and pray, and follow all the rules that were, I believe, created to bring out our best nature, our goodness, our compassion. I don’t know if the woman I met was Christian, Muslim or Jewish. I did not know her at all. But I know she was kind. I know she had the elusive, difficult to describe, nur, a special light, that emanates from the heart and shines through ones being.

Seven years ago, I wrote about this, trying to put in concrete terms the abstract nature of this light:

I’ve always tried to quantify the qualities that bring about Nur. Is it the manner in which they interact? The way they talk? The things they say? I want to know so I can emulate it. I want the Nur. I want it to shine from my soul through my eyes touching those I encounter just as those with Nur do mine. But perhaps Nur cannot be acquired. Perhaps it is only bestowed. If you’re fortunate enough to meet someone like that you should be thankful, and savor the joy they leave behind lingering like fragrant jasmine.

In the comments someone responded: [Nur] is such a beautiful trait…I think it comes from self-knowledge & acceptance. That calm inner space then makes it easier to move beyond oneself and give to others, whether with a smile or a listening ear.

It’s no surprise that the person who left this comment, a dear friend of mine, is nur personified.

Sometimes I get worn down by my religious brethern. Sometimes it hurts harder in the month of Ramadan. I am amazed at my capacity to continue to get hurt as I would imagine after a time one would become immune by the weathering. Like the U2 song where Bono wishes he could break bread and wine if there was a church he could receive in, I’ve longed for a community for years but get disillusioned each time I try. Today the hurt was lodged particularly heavy in my heart, as I thought of my sons, and what I wished to give them and what I simply couldn’t. So it was a happy coincidence on this heart-heavy day to meet this woman and be reminded yet again that people are people regardless of the faiths they profess. There should be more people in the world like Ms. Hepburn. And I must strive to embody the nur I wish to see in this world.

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.- Henry James

4 thoughts on “On bookstores, kindness, and nur”

  1. This was lovely–and the quote at the end, how is I've never read that? Beautiful. And you've introduced me to a new word, 'nur' which is, of course, an old concept that I've never had a proper word for, before. Thank you.


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