Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Stranger on a Plane

xenophobia (ξενοφοβία): fear of strangers

philoxenia (φιλοξενία): love of strangers (the biblical word for “hospitality”)

In October 2015, while traveling to Chicago, I accidentally took the wrong seat on the airplane: 12A. “Um, I think that’s my seat,” a man said to me, studying his ticket. I looked at mine and realized I’d sat a row ahead of my assignment.

“I’m sorry, I’m supposed to be in row 13,” I replied, getting up. “That’s okay,” said the man, amiably. “I’ll just take your seat.”

I had a mysterious sense, in that instant, that I was in the wrong row for a reason. My intuition, frequently beguiled by moments of synchronicity, said, “Pay attention. This is no accident.”

Next to me sat a man in his sixties who, upon take off, pulled out a small Qur’an and began reading. My inner voice said, “Talk to him.” I glanced over a few times, mustering up the courage to gently interrupt him.

“Is that a Qur’an?” I finally asked.

“Yes,” he said, smiling. And out of curiosity and a willingness to connect, the door opened to a riveting, effervescent conversation. Precisely because he, Mahmoud, was a well-learned man, and I had read and studied much of the Qu’ran in seminary, we immediately entered into one another’s worlds, sharing fascinating points of convergence between our Abrahamic faiths. By the time we had landed, even the woman catty-corner behind us–who, coincidentally, explained she was a member of COR–said she had listened in the entire flight with absorption. There was a palpable spirit of unity, respect and love.

Mahmoud said it was “no accident” I took the wrong seat. What a blessing it was for me, too.