Cafe Hitch-hike



Yes, I flew down to Florida for a job interview a week ago today. Yes, I got the spiel of what the college was about, the environment of the joint, and their expectations of me. I don't know how well I interviewed but I tried to be frank and demonstrative. The guy who'd be my boss has long hair and an earring. The library crew were transplated from all over the northern US. That was of some comfort.

In the meantime, I felt like an executive. I arrived at the airport, stayed in a nice hotel, and got a rental car, thanks to the good people of the State of Florida. I went to the beaches and islands, but had a peculiar meeting when I went to get a henna tattoo.

Michel was a Morrocan who ran a sundries shop near the beach and drew a flower/vine tattoo on my lower back. While he drew, he told me a little bit about his beginnings ("I left Morroco with $500 and had to sleep on the beach the first month I was here."). He then progressed, "this store is now mine. However, money is no issue. The issue is that I am doing God's will. I cannot be judged by people what I do, for it only matters to be judged by God."

"I thought America would be a wonderful place, but it is a strange place," he said. "Where I'm from, families stay together and support each other. People have fun. Here, people work like slaves, and families are separate. People are judged by what they have and do, rather than their goodness. They don't pay attention to their relationship with God or their spirit, and wonder why they are so unhappy. I think that is very sad."

It was a surprise that a guy with his hands all over my lower back, hips and the top of my butt was talking this way, but my eyes watered at what he had to say. I was willing to listen.

It reminded me of an interaction with a guy from Egypt back in 2000. This man said very similar things to me. However, I was willing to listen again. There was something about the Egyptian that grabbed my attention, and out came his message. Sure, Muslims have their duty to preach, but what moved me was their message was not threatening or damning. They never, ever said that I'd go to hell for not following their religion. All they encouraged was to be close to God and one's inner essence, for as the Egyptian said, "God is everything, he is your parent and your friend. He knows what is good for you better than you know. He knows you better than you know yourself. And when you get closer to God, you get closer to yourself."

Michel asked what brought me to the area and I told him I had a job interview. I eventually told him how badly I wanted to set roots because I moved so much, and wanted to find permanent work. I had no idea of how the interview would fare, but was willing to just try. I also told him about John. Michel asked me how long we were dating, and I said it had been 6 months.

"I know it's only been 6 months, but this chance for work might not come again. It's hard. We don't have a perfect relationship, he's older than me, we have our limits. It's a hard call because he's the best."

"The best?" asked Michel.

"The best. He always treats me the best. But then again, I cannot put my life on hold for a relationship that is still new."

Michel thought seriously, then said, "you never know," he said. "What you think might be good for you might be different than what really is best for you."

I lingered around the shop until my tattoo dried. Michel was starting to get more customers. It wasn't Michel's talk about God or preaching that moved me, but just being able to be around someone who thought about that. I used to think about that all the time, but it had been fading in me. I was doubting the existence, I was questioning what it was really all about. After a while, I just stopped thinking about all of that, and lived life day-by-day. There are many, many reasons for that, and thumbnail sketches of them entered my mind.

Michel didn't tell me he was Muslim and neither did the Egyptian, but I recalled that Muslim meant "surrender to God," and that was really the kernal of their message. Although my municipality has the highest numbers of Arabs and Muslims outside of the Middle East, these 2 conversations told me so much more about them as a people than all my interactions in my town.

My tattoo dried, and I felt that the conversation was Michel was over.

"If you get the job," said Michel, "come on back. I will be your first friend. Meanwhile, when you go home tonight, meditate. Pray to God. Ask him what is best for you."

"If you don't get the job," he added, "don't feel sad. Think only about how you are judged by God and not by people, for only God's judgment is what matters."

How does one say goodbye to a person and a conversation like that? I thought about it yesterday during lunch and started to cry. Yes, Michel had me thinking. It put another spin on the things going on in my life, but reminded me of a part I've been sorely neglecting. Maybe, maybe this was the only reason I was meant to go to Florida. If I don't get the job, then I'm not just going to boast I got a free trip. I got to meet an angel.

downwind | upstream