Hitchhiking and Beautiful Women
I got into the Uber and I could tell right away that the Uber driver wanted to talk. Sometimes I'm incredibly annoyed by chatty taxi or Uber drivers - getting a ride somewhere should not imply a conversation with someone, really - sometimes I just want a ride, not to talk or even listen. But I've been practicing non-resistance and letting myself be who I need to be in each moment lately, so I let him talk.
He was an older guy, in his late 50's. He asked where I was from and I told him Portland. He asked the usual casual uber questions that follow - how long I was visiting, etc, and complained when I told him just two days - "How can you experience Los Angeles in two days?!" he incredulously asked. This made me laugh as I understand the sentiment - it's just not possible. So I told him I wasn't going to try to get all of LA in two days, just a few pieces.
The car got silent and I could feel the energy turn, so I asked him where he was from. In his thick accent he told me he was born in Iran, and that he left his family when he was 13 in 1966 to come to the US.
"I hitchhiked from San Francisco to Portland Oregon when I was 16!" He enthusiastically told me. "Back then we smoked a lot of weed and I had a lot of beautiful women." He smiled the knowing smile of a man remembering a golden age or a better time. I asked him about Iran. He told me that the country is not what people think it is. "Back then, before the Shah left, it was a beautiful place. Very liberal. We have a unique culture in Iran because we are not like other Arabs, we are very liberal and progressive. The Iranian way of life is about being open, helping each other, and taking care of your neighbors." He said.
I told him that I had seen pictures of Iran in the 60's and even read a little about it, and it seemed like a beautiful country rich in history, and with wonderful people. It was then that this man quickly pulled over the uber - I was suddenly concerned, I didn't know what was happening. Panic rose up in me.
This man parked his car and without warning began to weep. He was crying hard and through his tears he told me how he wished he had never been born Iranian.
"Do you know what it's like to wish you were not who you are?" he asked me between heaving sobs.
I told him that I did. This is a pain that men can share.
He told me in the tone of a man making a confession - quick and sharply - that he was not allowed to go back to Iran a few years ago to say goodbye to his dying mother. He told me of his guilt in this, and that he would never be able to forgive himself. "I could not even take care of my own mother, she died alone." He said. We sat in silence as my eyes welled up in tears, matching his energy - our pain, although different, is the same. There is as secret pain that men know.
We sat in silence, our energy filling the car. I made no effort to heal him or tell him it was ok. I made no effort to heal myself, and the energy rising up in me. There was incredible power sitting in silence, in this pain, letting it be without fixing it or dismissing it - together as men, strangers. This is a pain that men can share.
After a few minutes, I felt the energy turn again, and I told this beautiful man that even if he did not forgive himself, I was sure that his mother forgave him for having a new life, his own life. He nodded, and started to smile. The tears began to end, and the overwhelming grief began to subside. He told me he has two adult girls of his own, and they are everything to him. He wished they could have met his mother, but they never did. The energy lightened.
"When I hitchhiked to Portland the women thought I was very exotic, very different. I was 16! Just a young man, I didn't understand. Back then - people were not afraid of each other. People were attracted to differences. Now people are afraid of each other. I came to the US to escape the revolution, the extremists, and the fear followed me here. It follows us all."
I didn't speak again, and neither did he. We drove in silence the rest of the way to the coffee shop, and when I got out I thanked him for the ride.
"You have given me a great gift today. You must be a magician. You have been sent from God. Thank you." He said. He shook my hand. We stared in each other's eyes just a bit too long; two men who were strangers, but shared an ancient and universal pain across every measure of difference possible. The pain of wishing you were not who you were.
I'd say it was he who gave me the gift, but there's no competition. Giving and receiving is the same thing. And the fear will follow us all until we face it.