I was waiting for Hussein to arrive. It was sunny and windy outside the door to the mosque. The door was locked, which honestly wasn’t a shock to me. I would have been more surprised if it hadn’t been secured. A few people walked past me as I waited. They didn’t greet me, but then they did not know either. I used to come to this mosque quite often, just to sit in the quiet and clear my mind. I don’t come to the place much anymore. I am busy with other things.
When I had initially driven into the parking lot, I noticed some Muslim girls in their robes and hijabs doing some kind of outdoor activity. They were from the school that is attached to the mosque. There was a security car parked next to them with the lights flashing. The lights gave the unspoken but clear message to keep away from the young women.
After a while, the security guard got out of his car and sauntered over to me. This too was no surprise. He was a big guy. I assumed he was armed, but I didn’t check closely for a weapon. He looked at me and asked, “Can I help you?”
That basically translates to, “Who are you and why the fuck are you here?”
I told him, “I’m waiting to meet a friend.”
“The guy’s name is Hussein, He’s a young man, a college student.”
The guard thought to himself and said, “Tall guy?”
I told the guard, “My name is Frank.”
He smiled a bit and said, “Mine is Iyad.”
Then the guard asked, “You want to go in?”
The guard unlocked the door and asked, “Is the guy Turkish?”
“No. He’s Syrian. He comes from a refugee family. I used to tutor his siblings.”
He let me into the foyer of the mosque. A couple Black guys came in after me. They might have been Somalis. They were there for the dhuhr prayer, the first prayer of the afternoon. Because it was the day right after the end of daylight savings time, the times for the five daily prayers were a little skewed, and these men were early. They walked back out again.
Hussein showed up shortly after. Hussein is a tall and very fit. He’s very busy with school and work. I asked him to meet me at the mosque. We could have met somewhere else, but I felt like I wanted to be in that space. The war in Gaza has been upsetting to me, and I wanted a sense of balance. I go regularly to a synagogue, and I needed be with different folks.
Hussein asked me if the door had been locked. I told him that it had been. That bothered Hussein. He said,
“The door should always be open, anytime. People should always be able to come in and pray.”
We sat on the floor in the mosque, and we talked about locked doors. Hussein asked me, “Your church is open for people, isn’t it?”
I replied, “No, hardly ever. When I was a kid, most churches were open all the time. A person could just walk in to pray and meditate. Then some churches got vandalized, and they locked most of them down except for religious services. The only church I know that is always open is the Cathedral of St. John downtown. I used to go there a lot to just sit. There are usually homeless people in the back pews during the winter. It’s a place where they can keep warm.”
I went on, “The synagogue is almost never open. When it is, we always have an armed guard at the door.”
Hussein thought to himself, and then said, “We have security here too. With the school, we need it.”
I nodded. I thought about the Sikh temple not far from where I live. A decade ago, a white racist stormed the place and shot down six people. The Sikhs have had guards ever since then. I knew one of the Sikhs who was murdered. I didn’t know the man well, but I remember talking with him.
Hussein is an immigrant success story. He will graduate from the university next summer. He is the first person from his family to ever graduate from college. His parents were farmers in Syria until the civil war started there. Then they fled to Turkey. They got into the United States just before Trump slammed the brakes on allowing refugees into this country. Hussein goes to school and works a fulltime job. He has a lot going for him.
I talked with Hussein about my son, Hans, the one who fought in Iraq. I told Hussein that Hans still suffers from the effects of the war. Hussein told me about Syria, which was odd, because he almost never talks about what it was like there.
He said, “I was in the war in Syria, when I was a kid. I saw dead bodies, lots of them. I saw a guy with his head, you know…”, and he made a motion with his hand to indicate the man had part of his head shot off.
I had to think about that. How does a little boy in Syria deal with the sight of a man’s body on the ground with the top of his head blown away? How does a little kid in Gaza deal with that? Or a little kid in Israel? What does that do to a person? What did it do to Hussein?
It was time for the service. Hussein got up and joined a number of other men for the dhuhr prayer. I sat back and watched. I don’t know the words and I don’t know the movements. I observed.
There were probably thirty guys standing in a line. They prayed together and did the prostrations together. They seemed to be mostly working-class people. Somebody else might have looked at these men and saw Hamas or ISIS. I saw ordinary men, just taking a few minutes to get some solace from their faith tradition. I saw guys like me, men with hopes and fears and struggles. I saw men who are probably trying to raise families and make the lives of their children better. I saw myself.
The prayer ended. People slowly wandered out of the mosque. Hussein and I went to the parking lot. We said goodbye. We hugged.
I love the guy.
Frank (Francis) Pauc is a graduate of West Point, Class of 1980. He completed the Military Intelligence Basic Course at Fort Huachuca and then went to Flight School at Fort Rucker. Frank was stationed with the 3rd Armor Division in West Germany at Fliegerhorst Airfield from December 1981 to January 1985. He flew Hueys and Black Hawks and was next assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, CA. He got the hell out of the Army in August 1986.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.