A Bus Stop Chat
The Central Bus Station in Haifa was shaded on this hot summer day. I was grateful. I bought a can of Diet Coke and the first lotto ticket of my life. I sat down to wait for the bus to Jerusalem.
A lovely young Muslim woman sat next to me. We exchanged smiles. She was going to Tiberius and wondered if she was in the right place. Glancing at the sign, I told her that she certainly was. She nodded, reassured. We began to speak. She had recently gotten married. He was nice, she told me. I said I was sure he was, that he should be! We laughed. She wants to pursue her education and she wants babies. She wants everything and wonders if it's possible. I assure her it is. I tell her I have everything, and realize, in the saying of it, it's true. Her Hebrew is flawless, excellent. Mine is halting, basic. She is not bothered.
We smile again She is delighted and therefore delightful. She gazes at the sparkling ring on her manicured hand. We sit in companionable silence for a while, and she gets up to get a package of bamba. She is young, a child/woman and I am old enough to be her mother or perhaps even her grandmother. I find myself feeling nurturing towards her, protective. Her husband must remain nice. Her life must turn out well. She should be happy.
The young woman offers me a bamba, which I decline. I offer her a sip of my Diet Coke, but she has water. Ah, here is the bus. She gathers her belongings and embarks. She turns around and smiles, saying shukran, the first Arabic word she has spoken. I smile and say afwan and shukran to you, too!
She giggles, and enters the bus, taking care not to trip on her long dress, which covers everything but her beautiful face, and shining eyes.
All of us read our Bibles, our newspapers, accounts of terrorism, and we remain vigilant, on guard, alert and stressed out. The young woman covered from head to toe is a potential terrorist. The older woman returning from a trip is a potential victim, and a potential oppressor.
We see through our dark glasses and don’t often approach the walls that separate us. We are isolated and afraid. We reinforce stereotypes and we live within what we fear, what we "know," and the very knowing becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, strengthening our misguided beliefs. The older woman has two children in the "occupying army." The young woman may have brothers or cousins who have been arrested. And I contend, if we remain within our boxes of what we are sure of, our reality will reinforce our fears, and future generations will look forward to the same lose/lose situation we find ourselves in today.
If I may make a request to you and me, it's to step out of our boxes, our theology, even our deeply held beliefs about what we think we know about the other side. Have a human encounter with someone different. It may not change the world, but it will broaden your horizon, and possibly someone else’s. If enough of us do this often enough, we may see the change we long for.