Gomez Ramesh invited me to his home for Tandoori Chicken with a side of something resembling creamed spinach. I was a single twenty year-old at the time, serving in the U.S. Air Force in Colorado Springs, and I’d never heard of Tandoori anything, but the red-colored roasted chicken on a bed of grilled onions looked and smelled amazing.
Gomez motioned me to sit at the dinner table, and his wife, Lily, did the same.
After exchanging pleasantries and watching Gomez and Lily dip flat pieces of bread in a light-green cucumbery sauce—to which I followed suit—I noticed a picture of Jesus on the wall. In my ignorance, I had presumed Gomez and Lily were of another faith, and so I inquired.
I was half correct. Gomez was a Hindu, and Lily, a Catholic.
As we continued, I noticed a green bean floating in the clear broth soup Lily had served. Gomez warned me about eating the peppers in the soup. “They are for spice, Brock,” he said, rolling the Rs off his tongue with his accent.
I ate the green bean.
“Brock, that was the pepper,” he said. Lily covered her mouth and chuckled.
So there I sat, eating dinner with a Hindu and a Catholic, both from India. And there they sat, opening their home to a white non-denominational Christian from Southern Indiana. There’s a joke here somewhere. I guess it was the pepper.
After Lily refilled my water glass—for the third time—I pointed to the Jesus picture and asked how they could be married, especially in their culture, coming from opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum.
“Our marriage was arranged,” said Gomez. He smiled at Lily, spooning more chicken onto my plate. She smiled back. I got the sense they loved each other. But how could two sets of parents arrange for their son and daughter to wed given such different belief systems? I thought.
They were not irritated at all by my curiosities, though I asked no more about it. Gomez had not invited me over to discuss faith and marital doctrines. He had asked for my help.
A week earlier, the professor of my computer programming course had announced the A+ I received on my first assignment. After class, a student named Gomez Ramesh introduced himself and invited me over for dinner—with one catch. He asked if I would help him with the next assignment.
Since computer programming came easy for me, and since Gomez said his wife was a good cook, I obliged. But this arrangement exposed another prejudice of mine—that Gomez, being from India and living in the United States, must obviously be one of God’s gifted culture icons of high-tech genius. Why would he be asking me, a white dude from the Midwest, to help him write computer code? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Apparently Gomez’s grade on his assignment nor his programming skills fit the stereotype.
But why didn’t Gomez ask the other Indian guy in the class for help? This entire setup was something new for me, and I suspected it might have been something new for Gomez.
But it was not a setup. And it was more than just some thing. We were two people, from two different cultures, with two different belief systems, and likely two different mindsets, though we shared at least one ideal in common. We both refused to allow our diversities to get in the way of our humanity. And as for my own perception of racial intellect at the time, maybe Gomez was too embarrassed to ask his Indian classmate for help. Pride runs deep in all cultures.
For the next several weeks we continued this bartering of coursework for cuisine, and I enjoyed the evenings I spent with Gomez and Lily. My taste buds never complained either. I think all three of us sensed a comfort in that we could share our beliefs without arguing over them. Lily and I of course shared the same faith in God, but I was careful not to take sides with this man’s wife.
I don’t recall the idea of “agreeing to disagree” ever crossing our minds either. We knew where we stood on the sensitive subjects, and that was it.
There was no reason to throw stones across the table. We tossed bread instead. Gomez and his wife served me with hospitality, and I served them by helping Gomez get one step closer to a college degree.
My friendship with Gomez was brief, only lasting for one semester before he and Lily moved. Our conversations rarely went deeper than our homework or the bowl of curry we shared for dipping bread, but both of us were willing to embark on something new in that short time, and we did it together.
I think of where our country (and world) sits today. The frontier ahead. The recent changes in our political climate have introduced a new forecast, one that appears bright for some and a problem for others. Though storms seem inevitable no matter where you pitch your tent.
Yet we all share in the opportunity to do something new, to handle our world differently than those before us, and those among it. Loving someone whom you disagree with might be the first step, the prescription you’ve needed all along. This goes for people at all corners of these debates. You don’t have to compromise your beliefs to love someone.
For me, this is exactly what my faith encourages me to do. To not compromise my faith and to love regardless. To love my God with everything in me. And to love my neighbor, in light of our differences, as I would love myself. To love with action.
“Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
This is the second part of the “Prescription for Doing (Life)” series. Click here to read Part 1 – Do Something You Enjoy. Check back soon for part three!