Thursday July 4, 2013

By Kate Abbott, Berkshires Week editor

After a long, humid day, the sky darkens slowly over the line of young fruit trees, and the crescent moon rises. The street is dusty underfoot, and the heat comes off it, meeting a slow night breeze. People walk in the streets and call out to each other and gather at the corners to watch the lights in the sky.

They are standing on North Street with black raspberry ice cream cones. They are tasting sweet dates in Cairo, ending a day’s fasting. And here, too.

While America celebrates Independence day this week with fireworks and water fights and family, Monday will begin the month of Ramadan. Throughout the Muslim world, and across the U.S., families will go without food or water from dawn to dusk and gather in the evenings to break their fast with roast chicken, rice pilaf, baklava.

I am sitting here with a bowl of farm greens dressed in lemon and olive oil, and a slab of flat bread with cheese and onions -- my first meal since oatmeal bread with fresh strawberry jam this morning (though I will admit to a cup of coffee in between) -- and thinking of families sitting together in the dusk.

You know how it is at a holiday. You have traveled after a long day, and a long week. You are sitting on the steps with your brother, who will soon be living at a distance, and aunts and cousins you have not seen for months, and whether they know you well now, these people have known you since you ran across the lawn here with a sparkler in one hand, when the fence and the stone wall and the laurel bushes were higher than your head.


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Surely at the Iftar meal, when families gather in the evenings of Ramadan, children are running over the warm ground, and older children are talking with their aunts and uncles while the lanterns swing over head.

I understand that some cities, Cairo among them, hang lanterns in the streets for the holiday. And I wonder what it would be like to see lanterns lit on North Street at this time of year, as simply as we see matzo and painted eggs in shop windows the spring. Imagine paper lanters, red and gold and green, hanging in the trees along Park Square.

Ramadan is a holy celebration, not a secular holiday, I know. But a holy day may become a familiar part of my world, even when it is not my holiday. I love the Passover story and have felt moved and cleansed and comforted at a Seder. I love knowing that families in my county are celebrating the Chinese New Year and Diwali and Kwanzaa and the summer solstice at different seasons of the year.

And so, to all who will celebrate holidays in this county this week, and in the weeks to come, I wish you happiness to pursue and your families safe travels.

As Nikki Giovanni said this week, "the response to a neighbor is ‘hi.’ " And I’m celebrating Independence Day, saying hi here to you all.