I listen to a lot of music. A lot. My Spotify is always going (I love skipping and listening to specific songs, so sorry Pandora). In a city, while walking around during my breaks or during my commute my headphones provide a barrier from the outside world. I can be alone in the midst of the city, I can pretend not to hear someone yelling at me or someone asking me for money.
Being on my cell phone (while using my headphones) is another way to ignore the world, even better when you are technically interacting via social media. I often check my phone to read the news, check Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, or I am texting my friends/mom. In the past week, I have had two experiences that required me to put down my phone and take off my headphones.
Last week I splurged and took an Uber home from a networking event. My driver was thrilled because he was driving out of the district and into the depths of Virginia, this meant that I was his last ride of the evening. His joy was palpable and he blasted some sweet music. It was Arabic and as he clapped along (at red lights), I asked what the translation was. We started talking about Arabic and the poetic nature of the Quran.
He played the Quran in Arabic (if you haven’t heard it, it’s stunningly beautiful) and translated it for me. This led to a lovely conversation about the similarities between Islam and Christianity. I personally love the Quran, it has given me a new lens to read the Bible for me multiple times and it may redeem Adam for me some day. As he dropped me off, I was struck with the depth and trust of our dialogue. We found common ground and beauty in something bigger than ourselves. I thanked him for the ride and stumbled through saying, I hope more people are open to having conversations and I am truly sorry for Americans who do not take the time to get to know the Muslims in our midst.
Then this morning I went on an adventure run, which basically means I run or walk to a trail with some nature. I had found a trail via the internet and figured out how to get where I needed to go. When I reached the actual trail and started running one direction, I reached the end quickly and turned around. I passed a man twice, then he passed me when I stopped to take a picture so I could show Instagram I #runlikeagirl (or more like #runtoinstragram). As I went to pass him, he started talking to me and told me his running friends all cancelled. I took out my headphones to run and talk. He knew the trail, I didn’t, and was faster than me. Challenged accepted.
I learned that he had been running for 7 years to my 1 month and I had found a good trail. He was going to show me the best spots on the trail so I knew where I was going. He told me I was tough. I needed to hear that this morning. Then we took a break and I mean break by pushups, crunches, stretching, and whatnot. This guy knew his stuff. Then we kept running, we learned we live close to each other so he could show me a better, safer way to the trail. I learned that he was originally from Sudan, had worked for a nonprofit advocating for women and children in his county, and he was Muslim. A few times he said, because of people like you, you make America great. A good affirmation of the work I have been doing as of late and what I want to do with my future.
We talked a little about why I was in DC and started nerding out about politics. We are both voting for the same person, talked about the lack of civility, the need to do better, and that loving ones neighbor is vital. Again, we found common ground and beauty in something bigger than ourselves.
As I have been reflecting on both God moments (they were holy), I realized that both men took risks sharing their lives with me. To say, yes I am a Muslim, at a time where it’s a risk. To be vulnerable with a stranger. To live out love of your neighbor in unique ways through driving a stranger home or teaching a stranger the ropes at a new running trail.
How can we look up from our phones, take off our headphones and see humanity again? To engage with those who are different than us? We must be willing to listen and engage, to risk ourselves. It’s scary to engage when you’re tired or just want to listen to Kid Cudi, but that’s what humanity requires. Humanity is shared, it’s not singular. It’s out there, waiting for you.