Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a righteous person? You can negotiate with a terrorist.
Well, there was the time I came to work early one morning and found someone had cleaned my coffee cup.
“Who the heck was dumb enough to clean my cup!” I yelled. Of course, no one spoke up. I could not identify the culprit. Sipping coffee out of a clean coffee cup is like drinking grapes out of a wine glass without the fermentation. The more mold and coffee crud in the cup, the better the taste. And besides, when I’m not supporting the men and women in uniform abroad in hot zones, I’m living in the Pacific Northwest drinking the best coffee in the world. We worship good coffee where I’m from and part of our tradition is to leave the coffee residue in the cup. How could anyone be so disrespectful as to deny my right to a dirty cup!
When I was in Afghanistan and we were at war with the Taliban, I found myself having to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, 9000 miles apart from my family. I wanted to celebrate it with my wife and daughter, even if they were half way around the globe. Thanks to the miracle of Skype, I could share the traditions of the holiday. Apples and honey customary to share with one another on Rosh Hashanah. We eat apples and honey and wish each other a sweet new year. I was so looking forward to it. I was going to leave all that war stuff behind for one night.
I found three beautiful apples in the mess hall to share with my family on skype, but I’d be damned if I could find any honey. “Here’s some honey!” exclaimed Mary Catherine, a coworker, as she scurried into the office. She laid down three 1 oz. plastic containers of honey onto my desk like dice on a backgammon board and hurried past me to her workstation. Soon my coworkers came into the room flooding me with packets of honey and lots of apples, both green and red.
“You know, what would go well with apples and honey?” Mary Catherine asked me. “If you took slices of apple, put honey on them and put them between two crackers, I bet that would taste much better,” she offered. I was appalled. I felt as if she had crossed a line and she could never go back. Here was a Roman Catholic telling a Jew how to improve a ritual that was more than 3000 years old. How dare she!
“You know Mary Catherine, telling me to put apples and honey between two crackers is a bit like me telling you that putting peanut butter on a wafer while taking communion would improve the ritual.” I laughed.
The room fell silent. Geez, you could hear a pin drop. She gasped. “How dare you!” she shouted at me. She was angry and grew red in the face. She continued to yell at me. I wasn’t going to have any of it. I thought what a religious extremist, zealot, fanatic! “I suppose a discussion about crunchy versus smooth is out of the question?” Others in the room laughed but Mary Catherine was not finding humor in my sarcastic remarks.
In fact, she either avoided or ignored me the rest of my tour in Afghanistan. It was as if I had become the enemy. If it weren’t for the active shooter drills and our demonstrations of loyalty to the same red, white and blue flag, we could have been on opposite sides of a war. We are quick to critique rituals and the people who practice them. But what happens when they begin to critique ours?
The loss of my friendship with Mary Catherine is not how I wanted to start my new year. The optimism that this year would bring us closer to peace and the celebration of sweet new change was on my mind that Rosh Hashanah. It continues to be on my mind as I celebrate the holiday every year.
But then, it’s not about me.