I sat next to an Iraqi man on the plane last week. It was going to be a long flight home from halfway around the world. We exchanged gentle "Hello's" as he took his seat, and I asked, "Are you leaving home or going home?" It was established that we were both headed home to Denver, Colorado.
We fastened our seatbelts, put our small bags under the seat in front of us and tried to get as comfortable as we could for what was to be a very long flight. We engaged in small talk for a couple of minutes. I told him where I was coming from and a bit about my experiences in Greece. He noticed I was traveling alone, but I had a ring on my finger. He asked if I was married. I responded with, "Yes." Then he quickly followed up with, "Do you have children?" When I said no, his entire demeanor changed. He was stunned, shocked and there was an undoubtable look of disappointment on his face. Without a second to pass he asked, "Is it because of God, or because of you?" I'm still wondering if my jaw actually dropped, or if I just had a frozen expression on my face. Now I was shocked and stunned. I could tell where this might be going. The next thing he said in broken English was, "No kids....no life. No kids, no love. No kids, no joy. You must have children to experience this." It was at this point in the conversation I had to make a decision whether I was going to use the little energy I needed to save to continue a discussion, or just fall asleep and ignore him. I hadn't a chance to decide before he asked me another question, "Do you have dogs?" How did he figure? Do lots of people without kids have dogs? I answered with a suspicious smile, "Yes." He then asked me, why, but before I could answer he continued, "Dogs are not loved by God. God made dogs to take care of themselves, but children...God made children to be loved and cared for." The entire conversation almost started to feel surreal. I continued the debate as politely as I could, and it was a very "preachy" conversation before the loud hum of the plane numbed us to sleep.
I awoke several times during the 10 hour ride, but we didn't talk to each other again. In that time, I thought about terrorist groups that have threatened the world with hate, violence and murder. I thought about various examples of extreme differences in personal beliefs, right and wrong, love and hate. There wasn't a doubt in my mind that the man next to me was completely wrong in his ideology that one must have children to be happy and fulfilled in life. His pushy manner and probing questions throughout the conversation was even more upsetting. My polite and civil attitude was due only to the lack of escape I had from his very close proximity. As empowered as I fought to remain, I felt somewhat diminished by his strong belief system.
The plane landed and as we were taxiing to the gate he touched my shoulder to get my attention. "You know, I hope you don't think me cruel. I enjoy conversations. I have my opinions and you have your opinions. Maybe you think me too bold." I nodded respectfully and smiled. It wasn't said outloud but it was understood that we agreed to disagree.
"We are home." he said.
Since I've been home, I've only told that story to my husband. But I think today is a good day to share it further.
I believe there is a lesson in every action, every emotion and every experience. During this conversation, I was angry and very defensive. I was also really thrown for a loop. I had never heard such passionate, deeply soulful words from a person who's beliefs I completely disagreed with. He was trying to convince me of something that was so against everything I believe. This was happening in real life. He wasn't far off in another country, he wasn't on TV, he was right next to me, speaking demented nonsense with kind eyes. I'll be honest in saying that it scared me.
It scares me that someone can feel so deeply and honestly right about something when I in turn feel that very thing is so deeply wrong. He was tellng me that I was living life wrong. I was doing it all wrong. My heart wasn't beating for the right purpose. He was questioning my soul, what I loved, and the point of my very existance.
As angry and wrong as it was to me, there was something good about him. Intention. His intention was to convince me of his beliefs, but ultimately showing respect of my own. We parted with words friends would use. He went on to live his life, and I am here living mine. And everything is okay. Everything is okay because I am strong. And he is strong. He is so strong that if we were to meet again, I'm sure he will return to his agenda of the happiness he believes I need to have in this life.
All we can do is live in the best and most honest way we know how.
All we can do is practice peace, practice love and share it with the world around us.
All we can do is live with respect and give respect to others.
As a collective, I think we tend to forget that we are all made from the same thread. We all share an energy that makes us human. An energy that allows us to think, move and feel...differently.
If we are going to live side-by-side within this realm of existence, we need to do just that. Live side-by-side. Do what you love and let your neighbor do what they love. Everyone on this planet needs to learn to be strong enough to accept differences, and respect differences. Not fix them. Not kill them.
This world is our home, we all share the same home.
Hello, I'm Julie.
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