To the Airport With a Side of Wisdom Please

We meet on the common ground of an uncommon age and share out our gifts of dark and light, good and bad, simple joy and not so simple sorrow.

Ray Bradbury

“Ohhh, man, it’s early, you know what I’m sayin’?” So began my 30 minute chat with Sean, the randomly assigned Uber driver who showed up at my doorstep. What is it that brings us together? What is it that pushes us apart? There is a powerful force in our world – a true power – bent on division. The great scatterer lives in, among, and upon us. It wants what it wants, when it wants it, and how it wants it. This force flourishes in chaos, feeds on conflict, and magnifies our most negative energies through our darkest capacities. What’s to stop it?

Walking to my Uber in the dark of 5am Houston, I saw my driver, Sean, leaned back in the driver’s seat, peering out of his window. “Pheel?” I nodded. “Back’s open.” Within seconds he’s verified that I’m his passenger and sized-me-up for any signs of threat – a necessary concern in this massive city that doesn’t sleep. I put my bags in the rear and climbed into the back seat. His tone warming a bit, “Hey Pheel. Good morning.” I look up and he’s got the rearview mirror trained on me. Smiling, he verifies my terminal at Houston Intercontinental and we’re off.

Lost Arts of Humanity

Civility often seems a lost art in our culture. At least, that’s what we’re told. Much of our current cultural narrative tells us that our online world and fixation on social media has hampered our socials skills and our manners have suffered. Three Uber drivers later on this trip and my anecdotal experience says that’s not true. Within 60 seconds, Sean has assessed my disposition and relaxed into an easy banter. “Am I your first pickup today?” I ask. “Naaa, man…I’ve been goin’ since 10 last night. I’ll do one more run before I head to the HEB for breakfast…then home.” “Wow, all night!? Are you busy the whole time?” I ask. “Oh yeah, Houston’s a 24 hour city. I just stay away from the women…they can’t hold their liquor. I’ve never had a man throw up in my car.”

What is it that brings us together? Shared experiences. Shared desires. Relationship. We’re hard-wired for it. We are made for communion with others. Sean doesn’t need to talk to me. He’ll never see me again. But for the next 30 minutes, we are in relationship – a shared experience that may or may not matter. But that’s not the point. There is no point but the human need for connection and our willingness, or unwillingness, to participate.

I comment, “Do you like driving for Uber? You seem to have a great disposition for this work.” “You know what? You get what you give,” he replies. Is that the “Golden Rule” I hear? There is such an elegant pragmatism in his statement. If I want you to treat me with respect, I’ll need to treat you with respect. Willing to give it first, this man clearly sees the world through cause and effect. I can’t expect you to treat me better than I’m willing to treat you so I’ll invest myself in it. If true justice is giving one his or her due, what would happen if we all expected to get what we gave?

“Where you from, Pheel?” He draws out the syllables of my name like we’re old friends. I notice it – there is a comfort and familiarity in it. He has sized me up: no threat, easy-going, open to the banter. “Indianapolis,” I respond. ‘Really? I’m from Chicago!” He throws it out there like we’re from the same neighborhood. “I been comin’ to Houston for 30 years, then moved here a few years ago.”

Ties That Bind

What is community? It is common ground. Firm footing for our frame of reference. Our physical existence is framed in the context of our surrounding, the solid foundation on which we exist. Our city, our state, our country – these represent common ground and shared experience. “I use to live in Houston,” I mention. “Mid-90’s.” “Oooooh, man, then you’ve seen it change,” he replies.

Change is central to our shared experience. The physical changes of age and geography are fundamental to our existence. Time and distance are formational and ubiquitous, bringing struggle, joy, and possibility. With time, we gain perspective, with distance we see it acutely. To be human is to exist within the frame of perpetual change. The ebb and flow of these changes forms us and unites our experience in the common fabric of our shared humanity. We see the world, and each other, through our unique lens of change even as the particular of that lens highlights what unites and distinguishes us. Ultimately, we discover that the unifying elements of shared change tend to bridge the distances in our own distinctions.

“Do you have kids, Pheel?” Sensing something kindred in the exchange, Sean took a turn toward the personal. “Yes, I do,” I replied enthusiastically. “I have four, though our baby is now 25.” “Me too!” Sean effused. As powerful as shared experience is, shared values tighten the cords of unity. Core to our being, and reflective of natural law, is our desire to create, participate in, and love the life we’ve created. Loving children is good, true, and beautiful, reflecting the beauty of our own creation and love of our Creator – it is divinizing and powerfully unifying. Loving, protecting, and nurturing, our children is objectively good, we are made for it and sharing it brings us to an absolute understanding – as clear as our own hand waved before our face. I get it. I understand. I know exactly what you’re saying.

A few stories later, I’m smiling to myself. I like this man. He’s real, like rock underfoot, solid. His isn’t an easy life. He’s seen things. He’s lived through struggle. He recognizes it. And, he’s learned from it. I hear the pragmatic in his stories, they have a point. He sees it, accepts it, and moves forward. A bit smarter each time. More human in living it, more man in learning from it. His story is unique but his struggles aren’t. Our conversation drew to a close but the echo of common ground lives on.

Sharing Belief in Something Greater

“Pheel, safe travels, brother,” smiled Sean as he looked at me in his mirror. “God bless you.” There it was: belief. Whoever God is to Sean, He represents something good…something worth invoking to my benefit. If there was any distance of fundamental understanding left between us, Sean walked across it, bringing the Divine Author to bear on our brief exchange, and offering Him as a gift of goodwill. I wish you well. I wish goodness for you. My prayer for you is that God will bless you.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that love is willing the good of the other as other. It is no casual thing to love another but it is a beautiful expression of our humanity and reminder that we are made for relationship, for communion with our fellow man. In that moment, Sean’s heart was full, he felt something real and true, and in giving it, it returned to him, filling him more completely than any words I could have offered. It also filled me. His gift to me was Good; and True; and Beautiful. He gave love without reserve, not recognizing it as such, but fully realizing that a threshold had been crossed. Somewhere the accuser, the dark scatterer of men, screamed in frustration.

Many claim that our culture has become toxic. That we’ve lost our sense of humanity, shared values, and the national identity that once made us strong. Our cultural institutions are crumbling amid our loss of common ground, shared experience, and shared belief. Perhaps.

However, my 30 minute trip along the streets of Houston reminded me that we still share far more than we realize. The great divider may be working hard to make us think that we’re too different, too disagreeable, too far gone, to ever unify in any meaningful way. There may be many who feel there’s too much money to be made in division and perhaps some who hate what our nation has come to represent. But I think there are plenty of Seans out there, working hard to earn a living, trying to do good in their efforts, learning from their mistakes, loving their families, obeying the law, and seeking to find meaning in the communion of a shared humanity that is ultimately seeking the same things.

Thank you Sean. God bless you brother.

Comments
  • John Harrison
    Reply

    God bless Sean.

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