What I particularly enjoy about my friends is the diversity -- young and old, gay and straight, single and partnered, many different nationalities. The gay and AA communities I belatedly joined in my 1977-78 turnaround have blessed me with many good friends. Another gold mine for friendships was BNA, where I worked for 40 years. BNA specialized in hiring people who were smart, talented and quirky. My kind of friends. D.C.'s Palisades neighborhood -- where I've lived for the past 65 years -- has generated many friendships.
And that's where I met my new pal Yousef Bashir. He lives on Sherier Place, the street where we had our first house.
Yousef was born in the Gaza Strip. A few months ago, he got his master's degree from Brandeis University. What happened in between those two events is a fascinating, moving and inspiring story, particularly an event that took place in 2004.
But first some background information
His father was headmaster in a high school where he also taught English. He had a special fondness for Victorian literature.
Yousef, his parents, and four siblings lived in the house, which was next to the Israeli settlement of Kfar Darom which, in turn, was next to a military base. In 2000. the Israeli Army seized the house and used it as a sentry post. Other houses in the neighborhood had been destroyed after the army ordered the residents out. Yousef's father refused to evacuate his family.
In a strange compromise, Israeli soldiers took over the house except for the living room, where the seven-member Bashir family lived from 2000 to 2005. They were permitted to buy groceries once a week. They had to ask permission to go to the bathroom, had to be accompanied there by an escort, and were told not to close the bathroom door.
Despite all of this, the father was a model of tolerance for his family. He warned the children against succumbing to a hatred for the Israeli soldiers. They are only kids trying to obey orders, he told them.
In 2002, a CNN news crew visited the family, having heard about the bizarre living arrangement... and also about the father's warnings against hatred and intolerance. After the first interview, the father was hit in the neck with stray shrapnel and rushed to the hospital. When they heard what had happened, the CNN crew returned to interview the father again and ask him if -- after his wounding and hospitalization -- he still believed in peace. He responded that he believed in it more than ever.
Listen to the father explain his views:
The months he spent in the Israeli hospital -- and the compassionate care he received -- resulted in Yousef's coming around to his father's viewpoint. Before his hospitalization, Yousef had only known Israelis as the men with guns, soldiers whose permission he needed to watch TV or go to the bathroom.
"But now," Yousef says, "they are surrounding me, playing with my hair, [and] asking me how I am doing.... It was a life-changing experience that taught me how to understand my father's passion for coexistence."
In the hospital, Bashir says, his father told him that he could turn his pain into something positive and not let the bullet define how he lived his life or viewed his future. That is what he is trying to do today.
Here's Yousef in his own words:
He was the only one who never fired a shot. He was the only one who didn't hate. He taught me to be a human being.
I've gotten Yousef together with several good friends who are Jewish. Watching them interact with mutual respect gives me hope. My spirits also were lifted when listening to Yousef talk with Nimesh, my Nepali housemate, and share their aspirations to help those in need in their home countries.