I visit with my son and grandson at Rockaway Beach in Queens where, in my two-and-a-half- year-old grandson's words, "we swim like dolphins," with him hanging around my son's neck as we ride the cresting waves. Cassius laughs each time we rise and fall.
While there, I observed a tall, blond, freckled boy riding boogie boards along the beach with a slender, dark girl in a long bathing suit that covered her body to her ankles. The girl wore a scarf covering her head (though not her face). They slid along the wet sand all morning, and then returned to a blanket set up by a fair-skinned woman, next to which two small girls were building "castles" in the sand. You know -- a day at the beach.
I imagined the older children (who might have been 12-13) were at the same school, maybe helped each other with homework, when the boy said, "Do you want to come to the beach with me and my mom and sister?"
"Sure," the girl said. "But I have to ask my mother first."
"Yeah," the boy replied, "my mom will want to talk with your mom."
Later, the boy's mother called to speak with the girl's. "Oh, hi. I'm Tom's mother and we want to see if Janna can join us at the beach. Tom tells me they're great friends at school. My younger daughter is coming with a friend too."
"Why, that would be lovely, Janna loves to swim."
"Ummm, I was going to bring some snacks -- fruit, cheese, crackers, maybe some cookies -- is there anything Janna's not allowed to eat?"
"No, that will be fine."
I imagined that neither the boy nor his mother was politically oriented, that they went to church on Sundays, that they backed the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, who knows?
There are a large number of Muslims in Queens, both from Asia and Eastern Europe. Walking with my grandson to one park, we pass a mosque. It never fails to surprise me -- I'm not aware of any in upscale, Republican Morris County in New Jersey, where I live, although I heard about one being planned that neighbors were opposing. But Queens is a polyglot nation of its own.
Is there a better advertisement for the United States, for peace among all people, for why Muslims should reject the idea of Americans as bigoted anti-Muslims than those two kids mindlessly sailing along the beach?
"I don't know much about Islam," Tom might say. "But Janna's a good girl. We always have fun together. "
Tom's mother: "Janna's a very smart girl, Tom tells me. Very polite and well-behaved. Her and Tom could run around in the water all day. Actually, I think she's a really good influence on the younger children too. She's welcome to come any time we go to the beach."
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