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Ill-fitting shoes.

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

Pair an introverted woman with an extroverted man, and you just might end up with an introverted son who can slip into the shoes of an extrovert. Those shoes may be a bit ill-fitting, but they can be made to work in short spurts. Sometimes the fit is worse than others. For example, traveling with a group has the potential to rub a blister, no matter how carefully one steps.

There was one trip where two of us novice Muslims had been assigned a room together. We were complete strangers until we met in our hotel in Istanbul. In the end, he would be much tidier, much more considerate, and much more, well, much more like what you'd hope for in a roommate.

After a night or two together, he broke the news about my recently developed snoring habit. Even my wife hadn't said anything about it at that point. Snoring may be a natural disorder, but that doesn't take the embarrassment out of it. And for an introverted guy who always has to summon courage to share a room in the first place, hearing about this from an almost stranger was horrifying, no matter how gently he had said it. Of course, probably not half has horrifying as learning you are sharing a room with one who has the disorder.

So, an idea came. To avoid being too much an imposition, sleep would be reduced to a middle-of-the-night nap. A bed would be off limits, too. The two or three hours a night would be spent instead on the floor, wedged between the wall and a couple of pillows. Maybe that would avoid prime snoring position.

Intentions notwithstanding, these efforts probably made little difference. Except maybe in the way he felt about me? There's no way of knowing for sure. The only time he mentioned the snoring again was in an apology for having said anything about it in the first place. He is so very kind.

Midway through the trip there came a kind of watershed moment, one where strangers who had become friendly roommates (despite one of them an annoying one) became brotherly friends. We had ended up skipping some of the planned activities just to talk. It was not a conversation one can or would want to share. All that should be said is that there was such a heartfelt connection, only one thing could have ended it naturally. That was an embrace.

Introversion doesn't mean a per se aversion to other people. The hug, though, is one social transaction that can alway cause this introvert to wither. The thought of it induces a physical reaction. It doesn't matter who or where or when, either, as it can even be the hug of a family member. There's almost always an initial reluctance. My mom once said she understood it, because she was the same way. But it still made her a little sad.

It's a flaw being worked on. It's a long road ahead, too, one that will likely stretch a lot of miles in ill-fitting shoes.

No matter the feelings, on that day, at the end of that conversation, there was no question of what had to be done. It was in the script. That much was certain. Notions of discomfort had to be set aside, or what was even the point of being there?

It came as a sturdy embrace. It was firm. And sincere. And firm. So much so, it was almost too much. Almost. Strange as it may sound, it was at that edge, the edge of almost, where something shifted. It felt good. It felt like friendship.

There is a story about Muhammad (ﷺ) and a Bedouin trader. Most people in the town would keep arm's length from the bedouin because he was so hideously ugly. Muhammad (ﷺ), on the other hand, had developed a deep affection for him and had made a point of always being close when he was around. One day when the bedouin was in the market on a trading expedition, Muhammad (ﷺ) grabbed him, wrapped his arms around him from behind, and put him into a bear hug. The squeeze was so tight the bedouin couldn't move. The bedouin was angry and afraid until he figured out who was squeezing the breath out of him. Then, when he heard that affectionate voice joke from behind his ear, everything changed. Instead of fighting to get away, he joined in with the game. All he wanted was to prolong Muhammad's (ﷺ) embrace. Such is the comfort of being near Muhammad (ﷺ)...and those who love him.



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