Kentucky is a long way from the Toronto International Airport. From door to terminal, it's about 9 hours, and that doesn't include stops or parking. But somehow, in 2019, Toronto ended up being a necessary stop on the path to Makkah, months before a Makkan trip was even in the works. Please bear with it here. Like the lines connecting these distant dots, this story isn't a direct route.
We were headed to Spain and Morocco to celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary.
When a Christian wife offers her Muslim husband the chance to visit a country where the adhan can be heard, there's a temptation not to debate the destination. But when a Christian wife offers her Muslim husband the chance to visit a country where the adhan can be heard, it is the Muslim husband's duty to make sure she actually wants to go. She would never play games. But she would sacrifice her own wants. That's the type of person she is. We talked it over and then she had a cooling off period. A few days later, before finally buying the tickets, the question was asked again. "Are you sure?"
"Are you sure?" wasn't just about the destination. It was also about the logistics of getting there and back. She said she there wasn't any part of it she'd change.
It may seem strange for a couple to drive to another country to catch an international flight. The Canadian border police sure thought so, until we explained the 1,400 reasons why it made sense. Or, in Canadian, 1,800. In fact, we explained, this wasn't the first time we'd had such luck. It was the third.
Economics notwithstanding, no one wants to drive 600 miles and then hop on a plane for another ten-plus hours. So for a midway respite, we decided to stop overnight in Ann Arbor, Michigan and nourish the nostalgia of the old law school days. We also indulged in a special anniversary dinner.
Next day we got back on the road after a mid-morning coffee. About an hour away from Mississauga, we decided to start the online search for off-site parking.
YYZ is expensive.
We had made that mistake of parking on-site the first go of it and weren't about to make it again.
The lot we tried to book didn't work out because the reservation website kept crashing at the payment page. It was unfortunate. We had used that lot the trip before, and we knew what we would be getting ourselves into. The place we ended up settling instead was a bit farther from the terminal than the first, but still only a few minutes' ride. On the plus side, it was a hint cheaper.
Those last ten miles were hardest. We exited too early and had to reroute. After making our way back around, we turned the wrong direction. We were on the right road, just headed the opposite way. There were still a couple of hours' leeway to give, which meant we weren't in a rush. Even so, it wasn't like we were itching to drive any more out of our way than we had to.
We parked the car, took our bags out of the hatch, and waited for the shuttle van. A man who had parked across the aisle joined the wait. The man noticed the Kentucky license plate and gave us a kind greeting. The conversation continued during the van ride. He mentioned he had visited Louisville back when Muhammad Ali died.
We then did a dance that would have made the late, great Ali proud. Being Muslim in places that predominantly...aren't...means mentioning one's religion can be a delicate endeavor. It requires skill and art and intuition. The length of the dance depends on something that is, for lack of any other way to say it, invisible. Sometimes it doesn't work right. Others, there's just a connection.
Within two miles, we were exchanging phone numbers and extending invitations to stay in one another's homes. We got to the airport. He went his direction, and we went ours.
We talked periodically after that--still do. When it came up one day that a visit to Makkah was in the works, he asked (with all the courtesy imaginable) if there might be an interest in a couple of essays explaining some of the inner dimensions of pilgrimage.
There are so many books and videos out there describing to the nth how to perform the rites of Hajj and Umrah. These are easy to find. All are precise. Not all agree. This is not any sort of comment on that, except to say it doesn't take much to find someone willing to instruct on what to do or not do, what to wear or not wear, and what steps to take or not take.
What this friend provided was a rare, precious gift. Not much more than a few pages, it talked about the intentions, responsibilities, and mysteries of what was about to be undertaken. It was both grounding and elating. And excerpts from it formed a treasured du'a (a prayer) that would be recited over and over, both in Makkah and Madinah.
There's no way to repay a gift like that. There will never be another first-time circumambulating the ka'bah. There will never be another first time praying night vigil in the Prophet's mosque. There will never be a way to un-speak those prayers. Because of that, this was a gift that continues to resound, spanning from deep within the heart all the way to the depths of the outer cosmos.
All this--all this made possible by a website crashing and a couple of wrong turns. And an extra 600 miles. And a compassionate Christian wife who wanted to give something to the one she loves. And a kind-hearted Muslim who was willing to share the love of his beloved prophet (ﷺ) with a stranger from another land. Subhanallah.