Christmas Day 1966 - my first Christmas in Turkey. I was married and had a small child. We were quite poor then, and our home was a two-room, cold-water flat.
The bare concrete floors were cold and unfriendly, but they were easy to keep clean. In the living room, we had one kerosene stove that was supposed to heat the entire apartment. We had no hot water, no radio, no television, no telephone, no Christmas tree, no gifts. But my husband and I loved each other very much, and we were making the best we could of our situation.
Since my husband's job required him to be at work for 24 hours nonstop that day, I was at home alone with my son, and the afternoon seemed to drag on. The ground outside was barely covered with snow, and snowflakes gently flurried in the air.
As I looked out at this winter scene, I yearned for the past Christmases with their abundance and security. After briefly indulging in some self-pity, I realized I needed to be grateful and satisfied with what I had - a loving husband, an active son, a roof over my head, and food on the table. There were many people who didn't have even that. A peaceful glow slowly grew inside me.
Then the doorbell rang. Cautiously, I opened the door; it was my brother-in-law. I was so glad to see him - a friendly face, somebody I knew, a relative! As he brushed the light snowfall from his head and shoulders, he reached behind the open doorway and, with a big smile on his face, brought out a lovely little pine tree, complete with melting snowflakes. I asked him incredulously, "How did you know I needed a Christmas tree? Oh my goodness, you've made me so happy! Thank you, thank you! Please come in!"
Maybe you think I was overly grateful - but the thing that made his gesture extra special is that he was a Muslim. This gentle man was a genuine good Samaritan, seeing my need to be uplifted when I was down in the world. He loved his neighbor as himself, just as the supreme Christian - Jesus Christ - taught.
In Turkey, 99 percent of the inhabitants are Muslim, and that day one of its countrymen gave me my first taste of their respect for the religious beliefs of others, full of insight, tolerance, and compassion. For me, it was the birth of a new, better view of God's all-inclusive love for humanity.
This man's name was Nezih, which means "pure in life and character." It also means "quiet, healthy, and pleasant place." Both meanings came into play spiritually that day, because I not only felt Nezih's living love and pure character, but a quiet, healthy, and pleasant place opened up in my heart, where I felt whole, at peace, at home, in a strange land.
Over the years, I have observed many Muslim holidays with my family, and they have celebrated Christmas with me. They have never tried to convert me to Islam, nor have I tried to turn them into Christians. But the boundaries of faith disappear whenever we gather to celebrate a religious holiday, be it Muslim or Christian.
We respect each other's faiths, and we share mutual love for a mutual God. This has been enough to hold us together, to help us live in harmony with each other.
Mary Baker Eddy recognized the binding power behind all true worship, when she wrote, "Nothing is worthy the name of religion save one lowly offering - love" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pg. 258).
This year I especially cherish that first Christmas in Turkey, not because of the gift I received, but because of the vivid memory I still hold of a Muslim reaching out to a Christian - just as I would have reached out to him if the circumstances had been reversed - giving love, joy, and an unforgettable spiritual sense of a holy season.
And now abideth faith,
hope, charity, these three;
but the greatest
of these is charity.
I Corinthians 13:13