I don't really know Rachel all that well — just enough to know that she is Jewish.
So when I bumped into her the other day, our conversation turned quickly to that subject.
I had been doing some research on the Jewish High Holy Days, which began this week with Rosh Hashanah.
"I always thought Hanukkah was the big Jewish holiday," I confessed. "I had no idea about Yom Kippur."
"That is so … Christian of you," she said, chuckling. "But don't worry about it — even Jews get confused. We do have a lot of Holy Days."
Yom Kippur, which falls this year on Oct. 7-8, is the holiest of Jewish Holy Days. It is often referred to as the Day of Atonement, and it features a 25-hour fast.
"Do you do that fast?" I asked.
"Every year," she replied.
"That's a long time to fast," I said.
"Well, you fast in your church," Rachel said. "And you do it every month."
"Yeah, but only two meals," I said. "That's like skipping breakfast and lunch. No biggie."
"Still … every month …"
Suddenly another voice joined the conversation: "If you think that is bad, you should try fasting for an entire month."
It came from a gentleman standing a few feet away — someone neither of us knew."
"Forgive me," he said. "I couldn't help overhearing your discussion. I am Muslim, and during the month of Ramadan we fast every day for a month."
"But not for 25 hours," Rachel interjected.
"No, it is just sun-up to sun-down," he acknowledged. "But still, it's for an entire month."
Suddenly my little two-meal fast once a month sounded sort of spiritually puny.
"I'm not sure I could do that for a whole month," I admitted.
"Sure you could," the gentleman said. "You just have to get used to it."
For the next few minutes the three of us stood there — a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim (make up your own punch line) — talking about something we had in common, albeit differently.
Although our faith traditions are in some ways polar opposites, we shared at least one faith-based principle: fasting.
And post-fast feasting.
"You should see the meal we prepare for breaking our fast," Rachel said. "It's amazing. Real gourmet stuff."
"Yeah, it's the same with our fast Sunday dinner," I said. "The worst part is smelling it cooking while you're coming to the end of your fast."
"I know!" our Muslim friend agreed.
"I remember as a teenager thinking that someone had nailed the sun to the sky, and it would never actually set so we could eat!"
We all laughed, because we all understood. We had all been there — each of us in his or her own way.
And for a moment there were no differences between us as we basked in the warm glow of our commonality.
I think it is that way in most areas of our lives. Although there are significant differences between us — political, ethnic, socio-economic and otherwise — those differences don't need to separate us.
They can actually bring us closer, or at least make us more interesting to each other. We can even find harmony in the dissonance if we pause long enough to listen.
With or without the fasting.