I usually get gas at the same neighborhood station. Lately, the same man has been pumping my gas so we smile when we greet one another. He is a handsome young man with cocoa skin and a warm smile. Because my fingers don't work, he is always happy to help me get my wallet out and retrieve my credit card. And like many others, he is curious and amazed at how my van has been adapted so that I can drive from my wheelchair.
A couple of weeks ago I pulled in one evening on my way home and we talked for about 20 minutes. I found out his name was Hari and he came from India several years ago, where his family still lives. He is 22 years old and works at the gas station 14 hours a day. Then he rides his bicycle to his apartment 20 minutes away, where he just has time to grab a meal, shower, bathe, sleep and then repeat the cycle the next morning. He said he was lonely but didn't have time to meet anyone because he worked so much. I was heartbroken that this kind and bright young man struggled so just to stay afloat. My paternal instinct told me that he was much too young to be so isolated.
And then he asked me if the woman I was with the other day was my wife. I said no, that she was my nurse. "You need nurse all the time?" I replied that I did and watched the great sadness in his face as his eyes became moist. Then he began asking about my disability, and when he heard that I was in a wheelchair for nearly 33 years, more sadness. He kept asking me about my physical limitations and finally had to walk away for a few seconds as he was so upset.
When he came back, he leaned on my door and I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "But Hari, I have something most people do not have. I am a happy man who loves many people. I wish that for you, my friend."
When we parted that evening he called me his brother. Hearing that we were family, I dropped off a good deal of homemade Indian food the next day. I told him that's what it's like to have a Jewish brother!
So this is where we meet, with his life as an immigrant from India and my life as a quadriplegic. But just because we meet there, it doesn't mean we will stay there. Over the next few visits, I've heard a good deal about his dreams and his fears. He has heard about what is exciting in my life and what is difficult.
In this season of miracles -- the miracle of rebirth and the miracle of freedom from enslavement -- I am reminded of an oft-repeated phrase in the Old Testament: "God is one." Many interpret this to mean there is one God. Maybe that's what it means, I'm certainly not a biblical scholar. But perhaps it means that when we are one, we experience godliness.
There is a Jewish parable that I discussed in "Letters to Sam," in which it is said that before an infant is born, God infuses that infant with all of the wisdom they need in life. And then puts his finger on the child's lip and says, "Shhh," thus sealing a secret pact between that child and God. And as the story goes, that's why we all have that indentation on our upper lip. That's God's fingerprint!
May we all see the fingerprint on each other, whether we are Muslim or Christian or Jew, whether we are disabled or star athletes. I wish for all of us to have encounters like the one I had with Hari. May we all have more brothers and sisters and share a sacred experience.
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