I tend to travel a lot each year. Sometimes it’s for travel and other times it’s for the supposed idea of pleasure that millennial Instagram accounts speak of. Every adventure involves an Uber ride (unless of course, the country I’m in doesn’t have Uber, unlikely).
At the end of my recent New Zealand trip, I arrived at the airport late after my flight was delayed. The thing about traveling is that the flight is almost always delayed. I often contemplate how the arrival times could be all solved if the airlines added 45 minutes delay to every flight by default. It could stop the problem — or maybe not. It’s a nice fantasy.
From the airport terminal, I waited for my Uber dazed, confused and tired from the bright lights of the airport. The driver rolled up. It was a black VW with immaculate interior, stylish lines and a dashboard lit up like the Queen Mary ship on her routine nightly voyage.
The driver was young in a way that still reminds me of how I feel despite the thirty-year-old birthday that’s attached to my name. Right from the start, something felt different about this ride home. We entered the freeway and our journey together started off slowly. I looked at my phone pretending to be busy. He looked at the road pretending to be a professional driver who’d been on this freeway for many years. I quickly figured out he hadn’t been doing this gig long.
The conversation spawned from nowhere. It started with me talking about his choice of radio station. It was AM radio and a cross between a talkback radio hour show and a Tim Ferriss podcast. The audience that listened to such stations were typically grey, over 60 and wearing a knitted vest. My driver was young, cool, dressed as though he were a Soundcloud famous rapper and attending a local college where he hoped to become a Construction Manager (a job I’d never come across in my travels).
The question about his radio station choice posed an interesting answer.
“It’s cool and every time I listen to it, I learn something new. A lot of what they chat about has to do with different religions and the lives that come with those choices.”
He didn’t strike me as a religious man.
His beard was not quite complete. He wore clothes that didn’t give any clue as to whether he was rich or poor (it’s funny how we unconsciously try and measure someones wealth from the passenger seat of a car). His face showed kindness even despite the lack of smiles he’d give off to tired, jet-lagged strangers such as me. His hands were soft and he probably used a popular hand moisturizer although I couldn’t tell you what that is given I’m not a hand connoisseur.
The radio station he chose stayed in my mind and it bogged me down. The temptation to return to the topic of conversation was too great.
“Are you religious?” the man asked.
“No I’m not, but I am spiritual.”
“If you could be religious, what religion would you choose?”
“Probably Buddhism because of the wisdom it teaches and its practicality with the way I choose to live my life.”
We’d somehow gone down the dark hole of religion. Religion is a topic I’ve avoided ever since I dated a young girl who was religious and tried to make me feel uncomfortable with the demands of her good book known as the bible. It wasn’t her fault. I was not ready. Religion is a big choice and it can’t be forced. Sometimes the choice you make is not popular, but in my case, it was who I was.
The religion conversation with the young driver was an interesting one. The subject seems to spark some level of vulnerability even for those who only play the vulnerability card with their psychologist on a Wednesday evening at 5.p.m sharp.
The man told me he was a Muslim.
He expected me to react badly which is why he took more than 30 minutes into our religion conversation to bring it up. Somehow, us white dudes from the Western World, are supposed to hate Muslims. They’re responsible for all the terrorism that exists in this world, aren’t they? That’s what the news says but us millennials are not that ignorant.
I told the driver about my childhood. Many of the people I grew up with were Muslim. One of those friends was with me at school during the 911 terrorist attacks. He had to hide in a classroom as though he were in the middle of a war zone because our school feared the older, white kids would beat him up due to the way he looked, the country he was from and his Muslim faith. Maybe I was too young to know any better. I stood with him that day during 911.
“He was my friend before the twin towers and it made sense for us to be friends during the destruction of the towers”
Our friendship grew over the years. One day I was staying at my brother’s house and sent him a text message from my 1999 Nokia brick phone. During the back and forth texts, my Muslim friend realized that we were staying in the same street. I stayed at my brothers house a lot more when I found that out.
During one part of high school, my friend told me about Ramadan. He politely told me that he was fasting because of his faith and that me eating in front of him with a look similar to that of a tiger in a zoo that had been given fresh meat was not helping him starve. For my friend, I stopped eating. One year I joined him for part of the fast. The ability to understand why he did it was important. When you’re friends with someone, you do things to understand the other person that you normally wouldn’t do.
That night in the Uber, I told this story to the driver. In fact, I told several stories to him about people I grew up with her were Muslim. He seemed surprised and even a little stunned. At the end of the trip, we found ourselves out the front of my place chatting. The meter was off and the money was settled on my debit card yet we kept talking.
Even though he was Muslim and I was not religious, we became intrigued by each other’s lives.
There seemed to be some common ground.
I told him about my obsession with kindness.
He told me about his religious beliefs that made him practice kindness.
I told him about my lack of religion.
He told me about his appreciation of all religions.
I told him about wanting to serve others.
He told me how he wanted to do the same.
Even though we both had entirely different beliefs, were from completely different countries and had very different hobbies, we both appeared in that moment to be exactly the same. This took the two of us by surprise.
We expected to enter the VW that night as two different people: one person trying to earn a living and the other looking for a ride home after a long flight.
What we both discovered was two human beings trying to live the best life they could with matching beliefs.
Humans are so alike and race/religion really shouldn’t get in the way of that.
Through an understanding of one’s culture and religion, we can learn so much about the world.
Sometimes we forget that. This Uber trip reminded me.