Episode 22: Sama
I was on a short break. I was in Bethlehem and had a few minutes to myself. I stepped out of the church we were meeting in, and onto a crowded street.
On both sides were vendors with small shops. A crowd of people was moving in all directions. A few cars were doing their best to navigate the very narrow streets, something made all the more difficult by the seeming indifference of the pedestrians.
Just as I was passing a side-street, a van made an attempt to come in from that alley onto the street I was walking. It moved in fits and starts. I noticed that in the front passenger seat was a young girl, about four or five years old with a toothy grin. She was leaning out the window and shooting streams of water out of a squirt gun and laughing. Everything about this seemed to delight her. One little stream almost soaked me, but for my quick reflexes and agility.
When she noticed me, and that her playfulness nearly wetted my suit and shoes, she was caught a little off guard. By now, her car and I were moving at about the same pace. Because of our mutual confinement in that narrow space, the little girl and I were now nearly pressed against each other. My smile brought hers back. She knew I wasn’t angry at her.
It was she that opened up the conversation. With no fear of a complete stranger evident in her manner, she spoke first: “Hi!”
I said, with as much enthusiasm as she, “Hi!” right back.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“John.” I said. “What’s yours?”
“Sama,” I said, with utter delight in my voice, “You are beautiful.”
That ended the conversation, but not the exchange between us.
Her face lit up. She beamed, and then just started giggling. It was unadulterated happiness escaping from her. She just laughed, and turning to her parents she seemed to want to say something – but couldn’t. The laughter wouldn’t stop. She turned again back to me, her eyes saying thank you while the giggling continued.
It was about that time that the crowd parted and the car could dart ahead. But as the car drifted down the hill, I could hear that laughter all the way down the street.
Bethlehem is an occupied territory. Its inhabitants live behind walls. They must endure checkpoints to move from one part of their city to another, and drive down separate roads. They live under and in a cloud of suspicion in their own homes.
And yet, living in such a world, a child greets a stranger as friend. Two people from across an entire globe have a chance encounter on a crowded street – and the child of occupation makes the foreigner feel at home.
I think back on this moment and cherish it. I will never see that child again. It could well be that I have given her a gift that she will remember and cherish; but there is no doubt that her laughter is my Bethlehem gift.
Whatever makes for peace; whatever compels us to unlearn the ways of war; whatever inspires us to beat our swords into ploughshares – begins with an instinct that welcomes the stranger. This child, though she lives in a world where you are taught to fear the other – this child sees the other as friend.
I want to be like her. I want to welcome the stranger into my heart and home the way she does; and for laughter to come from chance encounters.
Gentle listener, greet a visitor today with a smile. You never know what may come of such encounters. Be open to the joy that awaits you on your journey Into the Mystic.