A Chat Leads to a Very Long Conversation

Nick and Nawal at their wedding in Morocco in 1989


By Elizabeth Kelsey

For the Valley News

Friday, January 24, 2014
(Published in print: Saturday, January 25, 2014)

Nawal Lamghari and Nick Porcello met in Lille, France in 1984. They were both en route to Brussels, where she studied English and he was making a stop on a European tour. Nawal grew up in Marrakech, Morocco, and Nick in Orford. They married in Morocco in 1989 and settled in White River Junction in 1991, where they live with their teenage son, Jusef. Here, they discuss their chance meeting on the train after exchanging glances moments before on the platform — and how their different religious backgrounds played a role in their relationship then and now.

Nawal: All the seats were taken, and I was nervous because that was my first time coming to Brussels. I wanted to make sure I was on the right train. I didn’t want to end up in some other city in Europe. I looked down the aisle and saw there was an empty seat, so I dropped my bag. I looked up — and who’s sitting right in front of me? Nick. So I was like “Huh. Interesting.” He and his brother were speaking English, and I thought, “Wow, this is exciting,” because I was learning English. I could read it better than I could speak it. I thought, “Oh, I’m just going to listen to how much I can understand from what they’re saying.”

Nick: My brother and I were involved in this crazy little conversation about the significance of shoes in Western civilization. We were both suffering from lack of sleep from the trip from London. Embarrassed that this pretty girl I’d seen on the platform would hear this, I said to him, “I hope she doesn’t understand English,” and she must have thought I said, “Do you speak English?” So she said, “Oh, yes, I speak English.” I was interested, but she was very intimidating because she was beautiful.

Very quickly we began talking about religion. That’s something I really loved to talk about. Before my mother got involved in fundamentalist Christianity, she was checking out other things, the Paramahansa Yogananda — things like that. So I had a great background in ideas.

Nawal: I was raised in a very devout Muslim family. Not rigid — they were moderate, but definitely, religion is important to my family. I’m not devout. And that to me was a huge journey.

Nick: We weren’t agreeing at all. Our conversation about the weight of Islam versus fundamentalist Christianity was heavy. I didn’t believe in fundamentalist Christianity, but I knew the arguments, and there was a prejudice against Islam, in particular. I felt the prejudice, I guess. My point of view was that Muslims were misguided, and I didn’t understand them to the extent I thought I did. But I was open. We got right into it. She asked me why I needed Jesus in order to worship God, and my answer was that Jesus is the word and the light.

Nawal: Thinking about it now, I never — even when I lived back home — liked the exclusivity of any religion. That always bothered me — how could one religion be right and everybody else wrong? How could I just be right because I belonged to a certain club? That’s how I think about it: religion is a club. And you have the membership to it, and everybody else is excluded from it — that never made any sense to me.

Nick: I’d never met a Muslim before. I’d never been able to talk about that kind of thing before. It was just easy to talk with her, even though her accent was pretty thick. The only thing that was difficult for me was trying to stop myself from kissing her in the middle of that conversation. I was drawn in. I was in love. That was a very powerful conversation for sure. It was part of the attraction. Someone who had a similar interest in those ideas, even though she came from what I thought was the wrong vantage point at that stage of the game.

Nawal: Even early in our relationship, we always respected each other’s opinion. It was like a continuous debate: trying to win each other to their side of how to interpret religion. But it was not really winning, it was opening up my mind — this is how I think about it, and it was an ongoing discussion.

Nick: The more we talked about it over the years, the more I thought there were more similarities than differences, and we were both onto a universal idea.

Nawal: I feel like it is a spiritual journey, this whole thing — even my relationship with Nick.

The Best I Can Do

Sacred Heart Church, Lebanon, New Hampshire

When I was single, it was easy to dismiss religion. To attack it. To see only the bad: the endless wars it has caused, the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Not to mention its stance against homosexuality (why would God create people a certain way only to condemn them?). I’m troubled, too, by an institution that won’t let women ascend to the highest level (unlike Groucho Marx and Woody Allen, I want to be part of a club that would accept people like me as a member.)

Before Maroun, I surrounded myself with like-minded people and never had to think hard about spiritual issues in the way that happens when the person you sleep next to claims to have a direct line to Jesus.

Maroun had grown up in Mount Lebanon, his country’s Maronite Catholic region, where the community had a common faith. The truth is, I’m envious—of Catholics, of any religious people, for that matter. Religion, after all, is a way to make sense of life, and to me, life makes no sense at all. And just as religion can be misused, it can also be  powerful. I know people who have overcome addiction, grief, cancer—through God, prayer, and their religious communities. If I could flick a switch and become a believer, I would.

Occasionally, I attend church with Maroun. His religious conviction was a major difference between us, at first, but it’s always been one of the things I love about him. I find it comforting that he thinks a greater being watches over us; that by praying, he can relinquish a desire for control; that he believes he and I will one day reunite in heaven. I still don’t share his certainty in a spiritual world, but I love the possibilities spirituality offers.