Almost two weeks ago, I found myself alone in the back of a taxicab, stuck in New York City traffic, moving more slowly than I could walk. But, my post-marathon legs didn't feel much like walking, and so there I stayed chatting it up with a virtual stranger, exchanging bits of our stories.
My cab driver was a reluctant immigrant from Pakistan, moving to the United States out of a sense of obligation to his parents who moved here before him, and for the sake of keeping the family together. He brought with him his wife and children, and left behind his enrollment in a University where he was finishing his master’s degree en route to earning a Ph.D. in physics. I told him that he should go back to school to finish his degree, and he laughed and told me that I sounded like his wife. We talked about our kids, and my son’s love of running and his son’s passion for soccer. When he spoke about his children, he exuded pride, love, and optimism about their futures. For almost twenty minutes, we talked – about the City and travel, about family dinners and weekend sporting events, about jobs and the importance of education, about traffic and the characters on Times Square. At the end of my ride, I paid my fare, we wished each other well, and I walked away, captivated by how different our stories and experiences were, and yet how much it seemed that at our core, we are the same.
This conversation stuck with me, and it tugs at me even more in the wake of the Paris attacks. There has been an endless stream of public debate since about the fate of refugees fleeing war. Too often, in my view, these debates devolve into angry rants against whole groups of people of different nationalities or religions. There is an ugliness about it, especially now.
It is intolerance born from fear.
Day-to-day, I pretty much live in a bubble. It is ordinary, it is comfortable, it is fairly predictable, and I am happy.
But once in awhile I escape my bubble. When I do, I may find myself in a strange and wonderful city, or watching a performance that stretches my imagination, or eating a meal that takes me to another place, or running through streets I have never seen before … or even sitting in the back of a taxicab talking with someone who, based on outward appearances and life experiences only, is very different from me. It is during these times that I understand most clearly that I am part of a big, great and diverse world, and it is extraordinary.
Every time I have left my comfort zone, my bubble, and reached out, my life has been made better because of it. During turbulent times like these, I try to remember this.