So, here I am sitting in my bathrobe, ready for bed and checking my Internet messages before hitting the sack. I’ve had a wonderful, relaxing evening. My wife made a great salmon salad, garnished with all kinds of things I can’t even identify. That was washed down with a large glass of wine while watching American Idol (I had told my kids that the are watching the birth of a star in this Adam kid). And then, what watching a comedy program, I enjoyed one of my first homemade martinis. My horizons are expanding. As a result, I am way mellow at this point.
And for some strange reason, I’m reminded of a story that feels like it needs to be told before I go to bed. So here goes.
I was on a business trip recently that involves stops in Houston, Dallas and Phoenix. The most hectic part of the trip was Houston. I had to make four meetings, scattered across different parts of town, during the course of one day. I picked up a taxi at the airport in the usual way. A somewhat hard to understand Indian gentleman who drove the taxi gave me his business card, and implored me to call him the next day if I needed a cab back to the airport. I ordinarily don’t do that, but because I was so pressed for time between meetings, I decided to give him a call and see if he would be prepared to meet me at my last meeting downtown, take me to a meeting out on the fringe of the city, and then wait for me so that I could make my plane at the end of the day. He agreed to take me out of town for my last meeting, and said that he would arrange for another cab to take me to the airport. He had something else that he needed to do that evening.
So, my Indian friend picked me up at my last meeting downtown. We headed out to the outskirts of Houston for the next meeting, and during the course of an approximately 45 minute drive, he began to ask me questions about my religious beliefs. I canâ€™t remember how we got on this subject, but it seems that I am a lightning want for this kind of thing. I need to analyze my behavior to figure out what it is that I do or say that invites this kind of conversation.
In any event, my taxi driving friend ended up explaining to me that his wife and children live in India, he is a devout Muslim, and he does not want them to live in the United States because of the potentially corrupting nature of the environment there. So, he gets to see them once every two or three months.
He then started to ask me questions about my beliefs. I told him a little bit about my upbringing, the issues that caused me to change my point of view, and how I currently believe (agnostic/atheist). This led him to ask me questions about the nature of agnosticism and atheism, how those terms are defined, how people who used to believe, as I did, could come not to believe anymore, etc. He told me a story about someone who he had helped to convert — a computer scientist — and who sometime later had renounced his belief in the Muslim faith. This puzzled, and deeply troubled him. I did my best to explain how perspective can change, and how the emotional experience related to being part of a close-knit religious group can sometimes make people temporarily feel that they have beliefs that are certain, and will never change. We had what seemed to me like a pleasant discussion in that regard. So pleasant, in fact, that he missed our turnoff from the freeway, and I ended up being 15 minutes late for my meeting.
As we pulled up to the building at which I had my meeting scheduled, he apologized for the fifth or sixth time for making me late, and said that he had decided that in order to make things right, he should wait for me until I finished my meeting, and then take me to the airport. I thanked them for that, and without hesitating left all of my luggage, including a number of valuables, in his cab. I didn’t realize what I had done until I was on my way into the building. And then, I had no inclination to reverse my intuitive decision. I trusted this man. Our beliefs radically differed, but during the course of a 45 minute cab ride, and intense conversation, I had come to both trust and like him. It was obvious that he had the same feelings with regard to me. He told me two or three times during the course of the trip that for some reason, he felt inclined to talk to me about things that he ordinarily did not talk to anyone about. He said that I felt like a kind of spiritual companion, or fellow traveler, to him. This puzzled him, because I was an atheist.
In any event, I finished my meeting and came out to find my luggage, and cabdriver friend, waiting in the parking lot. He drove me to the airport. That took another 20 minutes. On the way, he attempted to convert me to the Muslim faith. He bore his testimony, in essence. He wanted to give me a copy of the Koran. I told them that I already had a copy, and had read most of it years ago. I told him that I understood that the Koran, when sung in Arabic, is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry on the planet. I’ve heard that described by people who understand Arabic, and the Muslim culture, and who are not Muslim.
In any event, when he finally dropped me off at the airport I had to politely cut short ourconversation. I was almost late for my flight, and my friend wanted to continue passionately explaining to me the virtues of Muslim belief; the beauty he had found as a result of living in accordance with the Muslim faith; and most importantly, the importance of faith itself. He was concerned about my lack of faith. He felt that I was missing much of what lifeâ€™s wonder. And what of my family? How could I raise children without faith? I had already explained the nature of my faith filled life up until about age 45, and so politely smiled as he continued his impassioned plea. Finally, I told him for the second time that I really had to go, we shook hands, and I hustled into the airport.
The fact that I am dictating this story, late at night after a long day at work, indicates the impact this brief encounter had on me. There is something about people who believe passionately, and live passionately, that impresses us. This man was full of energy. He was full of purpose. His point of view is sure to be attractive to those who are somewhat unsure with regard to their own path. And though I could not disagree more with his beliefs, and much of how he lives, I liked him. I enjoyed his company and he enjoyed mine. This, clearly, puzzled both of us.
Life is strange — strangely wonderful and surprising in strange ways.