Coffee With Khalil
Sometimes I like to do this writing exercise where I pretend that I am meeting someone that I admire. I like to imagine what I would discuss with them if I had the opportunity. Today I imagined meeting one of my favorite poets and artists Khalil Gibran, author of The Madman and The Prophet.
I am so excited this morning. My favorite poet is supposed to drop by. I wonder if he likes coffee. I was so nervous last night that I spent the whole day cleaning the house. Wait. Was that a knock on the door? I think that might be him. Let me go check.
Yes, it is him. Just let me open the door. "Please come in, Mr. Gibran. Do you like coffee?"
"I do." He came into the house and looked around the living room. "You have a lovely home."
"Thank you. You are too kind." He shook my hand. His handshake was firm and warm. He was a little on the shorter side, dressed in a tan three-piece suit with a dark tie. He had a thick black mustache, a prominent cleft chin, and a receding hairline that ended in black hair streaked with silver. His face was kind, and his eyes were full of intelligence and curiosity.
"Please have a seat at the table, and I'll get some for you. Do you take sugar or cream?"
"Just sugar for me, please," said Mr. Gibran.
I put in a scoop, and he gave me a nod indicating that he wanted a second. When he looked satisfied, I went over to the table with two steaming mugs and sat down. "I want to say what a great honor it is for you to visit me, Mr. Gibran. I've been a fan of your work for so long."
"Please, call me Khalil." He smiled, his eyes twinkling in the morning light. "Did you know that coffee was a sacred drink?" he asked.
"No, No, I didn't."
"The Sufi mystics in Yemen would use Qahwa, what we now call coffee, to help them concentrate while chanting the name of God. They believed that it helped them to achieve a form of spiritual intoxication."
"That is very interesting," I said. "The Sufi mystics influenced your own religious beliefs, didn't they?"
"They did," he said. "Though I grew up in a Maronite Christian, I have been influenced by many religious philosophies. Lebanon is a very spiritual place."
"Isn't it primarily an Islamic country?"
"It is. The Ottomans controlled most of the region when I was a child. My family was impoverished, so I moved to the United States when I had an opportunity."
"What I want to ask you about is the many religious influences that I see in your work. Both your painting and your writings have such beautiful religious symbolism."
"I get asked about that a lot," he said. "I believe in a fundamental unity of religions. Growing up and witnessing the struggles over religion in my homeland, knowing Lebanon's history, I came to see how futile those struggles were. I believe in a single divine absolute. Religions are just different people's perspectives or reflections on this absolute."
"So you don't believe that we are all worshipping different gods; we just see different sides of the same fundamental being."
"Something like that," he said.
We sat at the table for a few minutes discussing the various religious influences from throughout his life. I found his insights very compelling, but I would expect no less from a man whose literature has been so influential in my life.