On the last leg of my trip to Los Angeles I spoke with three very different men. Each revealed stories of a world that is out of sync with the perfectly hedged condos on Wiltshire Boulevard that reach for clear blue sunny skies.
This is Andre. Before heading out to the airport, I thought I could steal 30 minutes by the pool. With his exquisite French accent, accented by exquisite sunglasses with metal trim, he told me he loves America, sells Toyotas in Provence, is working on a deal to start retirement "castles," has traveled the world and more. Ok, Andre I hear the details of your life. Twenty minutes of his details. Enough. "Can I ask you a hard question?" I said.
"Tell me about anti-semitism in France. I am Jewish." (the first thing I had told him about my self.) I took a leap because I wasn't really interested in his knee surgery or how America's health care isn't as good as France's. I wanted to know if there was red meat behind the talk of anti-semitism.
"We see what is going on the television over there. Israel and the Jews, you know.
And there are more Jews in France than any place in the world."
"I don't think so," I interjected.
"No this is true. They make most of the movies and TV shows so it impacts what we see. Mostly in Paris they stay to themselves." (note all is being said in that dreamy French accent). And a guy I know who is Jewish he told me that all you have to do if you are Jewish is go up to a Jew who has a business and say I'm Jewish and you get a job. I know some Jews." Andre's girlfriend walked over a minute later. Our pleasant pool side conversation was over.
On the next leg of the trip, I spoke to my cab driver. I couldn't resist. Another accent. "Where are you originally from?"
"Armenia and then we went to Syria."
"Did you leave Armenia after the genocide?"
We talked about a crazy world where genocide is still happening. And then I made a passing comment. After that comment he drove mostly with his eyes in the rear view mirror looking at me while he told me a story that made him cry.
My passing comment: Where are the mothers of the terrorists in Iraq who are slaughtering people?
Taxi Driver: I'll tell you a story. A terrorist in Lebanon back in the 1970's was being trained to kill Christians and Jews. (This time I hadn't revealed my orientation).
The terrorist told his best friend who was a Christian, 'we can't be friends any more' But his friend stayed with him and helped him learn the ways of Christianity. One night the man who was a terrorist, had a dream that Jesus had visited him and he told his friend he was afraid.
Knowing his family and the people training him would kill him if he said he wanted to be baptized he escaped to France and then to the US.
'I'll tell you why I'm sharing this story in a minute, its about the mothers," the cab driver said.
Twenty years went by and he wanted so badly to see his mother. He returned to Lebanon. His mother wept when she saw him, hugged him and said, "Dear, tell me what food you missed that I make with my own hands."
"Dolah" he said. The next day she made him the eggplant stuffed rice and meat. And the man died. She had poisoned him, his own mother, because he had converted. This is where the mothers are."
I wondered, was this story about someone he knew well? The cab driver had told the story with great detail. "I saw it on youtube. His brother who also converted tells the story."
We arrived at the airport and I wished him peace. Was the story true? I don't know. What was clear that he carried the story as part of his truth.
Third man on the last leg of the trip. Rollin. Named for his father who drank to cope with all the bodies he had buried in Viet Nam. This thirty-two year old, sitting next to me on the US Air flight, father of Nile, expecting another baby, was going to visit his girlfriend who is not the mother of his boys. "I named my son Nile," he started the conversation with me after seeing the map in the book. I'm reading about the Arab and Israeli conflict.
"Yes I'm Jewish."
"Oh are you a Zionist?" I asked, "What is a Zionist? Do you mean someone who thinks Israel should exist, if that is the definition, yes I'm a Zionist."
Later he asked, "Are you a Hebrew?"
Later he asked, "You read the Kabbalah right? I don't really know what Hebrews believe."
And we spoke about the killing in St. Louis. He grew up there.His friend still lives around the corner from the shooting.
"There are no jobs there. I was lucky. My dad died and he left me enough money to go to private Catholic school. All through high school I wore a uniform and learned discipline. Even when I was homeless, and slept in a car, I got up and went to school. You see those kids in Missouri, there is nothing for them. No jobs, no school, no family. People forget Missouri was the last slave state and all that oppression mentality is still left there. I'm working on my college degree. I want to work with children and help them."
Rollin spoke about how he had fasted for Ramadan although he is not Muslim. He reads the occult. He gave me a few suggestions of books I should read. He believes in taking something from everywhere.
"You seem like a very spiritual person," I commented.
"You have to look up," he said "when you are in the ruins, and there is nothing around, I learned to look up."
These were the stories of three men who in the normal course of the day I wouldn't have met. Their stories are potent. In a short amount of time, each one was quickly willing to share a piece of themselves that is making up the collective feeling that the world is standing on one leg. Are we primed for one thing to come by and kick out that leg? I'm anxious about what happens, if you have one leg and it gets kicked out from under you.
What are you hearing in the stories under clear blue skies?