A long, long time ago, I was an exchange student. I went from the safe enclave of an upper-middle class American town to the exotic and slightly scary world of Tunisia.
It was 1973. I knew nothing about Tunisia, or about Islam, and I found myself thrust into an absolutely exotic and entrancing world, filled with mystery and wonder.
Luckily for me, I went very quickly from the world of “Casablanca” to the world of “Nice middle class family”. Although I was inspired and amazed by the sounds and sights of the Minarets, by the beauty of the ancient mosques, and by the exotic perfumes of the jasmine blossoms, I was also made aware of the universality of familial and cultural love.
While I was living in Tunisia, I noticed the prevalence of the “khamsa” symbol; a hand held up in benediction, bringing a wish for love and peace. The khamsa is a woman’s blessing. I was told by my Islamic Tunisian friends that the symbol represented “the hand of Fatma, the daughter of Mohammed”. I loved the idea of the holy woman, bringing her gentle guidance to the people with her upheld hand. When I came back from my summer in Tunisia, I carried a “khamsa” decorated dish, which I have proudly displayed for 41 years.
A few years after my trip to Tunisia, I worked as an interpreter for Jewish Russian immigrants. To my great surprise, I noticed the image of the upheld hand, with its five fingers splayed, in the world of my Jewish friends. I asked what it signified, and was told, “It is the hand of Miriam! It means a woman’s blessing.”
I thought that was pretty cool.
I have since read that the “khamsa” is a symbol that was recognized by very early Christians, who called it “The hand of Mary.” Amazing.
As a mother, I absolutely love the idea of the woman’s blessing. I love that it transcends the so-called differences between the great religions.
If I ever had a “totem”, this would be it.
About ten years ago, I came home from work one day. I pulled into my driveway, grabbed my bag of school work, and stepped out of the car.
At my feet, I found a tiny, perfectly shaped, rubber “khamsa”. I picked it up, held it in my hand, gasped in surprise. Where had it come from?
I had no idea.
I placed it carefully in the front window of my house. It stayed there for a very long time. A mysterious and powerful message of love and peace and blessings.
Two years ago, on my birthday, my daughter bought me a beautiful silver “khamsa” necklace. It holds my birthstone in the center of its palm.
I love it because Kate gave it to me, but I love it more for what it signifies. Each day of the Gaza/Israel war, I wore my khamsa. I touched it over and over again, thinking, “You both love peace and gentleness! You both worship the guiding hand of the Mother. What are you DOING?”
I wore my khamsa to school this week. I wore it because I love its message.
On the second day of school, I was standing in my classroom with about 12 kids who were heading home on Bus #3, my assigned “busroom”. We were all lined up, waiting patiently for our ride home.
A tiny little first-grade girl, born in Nigeria, reached up to touch my “khamsa” with her fingertip. “What is this thing?”, she asked, her bright yellow hair ribbons bobbing. She was frowning in concentration, and her beautiful little face was filled with concern.
I told her, and the other children in line behind her, all about the khamsa.
“It means that there is a woman who is showering everyone with love. She wants to keep everyone safe.”, I said. “She is giving a blessing.”
I stood still, thinking that this information was most likely beyond the comprehension of my smallest charges.
Then a little voice chimed in, “Oh, I get it!”, she cried with excitement. She was a tiny little blondie, the friend of her Nigerian classmate. Her bright blue eyes lit up, and her dimpled cheeks were stretched out with a smile.
She reached out one little finger, and placed it in the heart of my “khamsa” necklace.
“I get it!” she said again, “That lady is YOU!”
I was speechless. I didn’t know how to respond to such a lovely gift.
And this is why I love my job.
Salaam, shalom, peace, mir, pax, etc. May the spirit of the “khamsa” be with you and yours.