“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“Excuse me. Are you breaking your fast?”

As a freshman in college, I spent a summer learning Mandarin in Beijing. The challenging language program overlapped with Ramadan – my first time marking the holy month away from home in Pakistan. I had grown up with memories of post-fasting Iftars with loved ones full of laughter and merriment; now, with no other Muslims in my program, and none known to me in a foreign city, I felt homesick and alone.

I sat in a restaurant at my table-for-one, eating my chicken rice and vegetables at sunset. By the third day in a row, the Uyghur owner took notice. He studied me – a lanky, foreign teenager – who responded to his enquiry in broken Mandarin. What he then said will stay with me forever.

“You are welcome to eat here every day for dinner all month. I will not charge you.”

By the end of Ramadan, he even asked me to sit at the family table at the back of the restaurant. I felt so special – I can still picture his toothy grin, taste the cumin-spiced lamb that melted in my mouth, and hear his wife’s fascinated tone asking questions about Pakistan and America.

Acknowledging shared humanity with others: sometimes, that’s all it takes to bring joy back to the table.

— Salaar Shaikh