When I was nine, I took my first communion. By accident. Sort of. We skipped breakfast to make it to church on time for Christmas Mass. His mom told me if I just closed my hand in a fist as our pew walked up to the altar, the priest wouldn’t give me a cracker. I was hungry though and grateful for the two second snack before me. And so I opened my hand, held out my open palm, lifted it to my mouth, and bit into the body of Christ.
Looking back, perhaps I should have been in the blood line. The Eastern Orthodox don’t mess with that grape juice nonsense like the Baptists. Only the good stuff, especially on Christmas. But I digress. Probably to blasphemy.
My first communion story was … well, entertaining for most of my classmates in college. It was the Bible belt and even the atheists quoted scripture. So the occasional line of “I accidentally took communion once…” from the Muslim at the party was always a crowd-pleaser.
At my second communion, I didn’t go to the altar. I was fifteen, at a funeral, and this priest was not messing around. He told us not to come up if we weren’t Catholic. No crackers that day. But I was fifteen, so the Catholics in the pew got clever with that blood of Christ in the back pantry afterwards. So the rest of us wouldn’t feel left out of course. Sharing the love of the Lord is important. It seemed like an appropriate thing to drown our grief in.
My communions were anecdotes and funny stories for an agnostic/unknown like myself. An interesting pageantry. Symbolism steeped in man-made tradition. The highest form of embodied dogma. And then, there was my third communion. No churches, no trinity, no bread and wine.
My third communion was in a living room full of Muslims. Refugees. Palestinians. Believers in the homeland. Closed eyes, savoring every morsel of the zaater on their tongue, with a prayer for God to take them home whispered under their breath.
Jihad, my friend’s younger brother, played altar boy, carefully scooped it out of the bag, piling it neatly on a small plate, walking ever so carefully as not to spill a single sesame seed.
With two pinched fingers, family members lifted the crushed thyme and spices and laid them on their tongues, inhaled so deeply I thought their lungs would burst from their chests.
An uncle visiting broke the silence. “Get the olive oil! … You brought olive oil, right?”
“Of course. Olives, too.” I replied.
The grandfather patted my knee.
“The scent of home is enough, ya binti. Katter khairik.”
Communion resumed, now with olives and oil.
Plates were wiped clean with bread and the small fingers of children, convinced Palestine itself would jump off the plate if they dipped with enough force.
The grandfather passed on the second round. I half-jokingly/half-very-seriously asked, “Seedi, do you want me to hide your presents before half of Shatila shows up?”
“I ate from Palestine’s earth until I was 20. These are the generations that have never tasted her, known her scent, had her fill their stomachs and put them to sleep. Let them eat until they are full,” he replied.
I smiled and was quickly pounced on by a young Spiderman that stole me away periodically throughout the evening.
A little while later, I felt a tug at my shoulder.
“Can you put some of the oil in a small bottle so they don’t cook with it or serve it with anything?” he asked.
“Of course. Changed your mind? You want to save it?” I asked.
“Not all, just enough. I want the scent of home every night until I die. I want to smell Majdal Kroom in Shatila.”
I poured him some olive oil into a small bottle and tucked it near his makeshift bed in the living room.
I realized in the gift-giving, I hadn’t taken my own communion. Before I returned to the living room, I dipped my pinched fingers into the bag of zaater, and said my prayer under my breath.
I took my third communion in private, standing over a sink, trying not to spill a crumb.
A communion of faith.
I breathed in the scent of the quickly emptying bottle of oil.
A conversion to exile.