On yesterday’s walk, I noticed a young man carefully removing a piece of art from his car. He had close-cropped hair, beard, and stylish business clothes. He held the art like he was holding a newborn. Within the gilded frame glittered gold hand-embroidered Arabic letters on deep, black fabric. Hello inspiration.
“What’s it say?” I asked him, tugging my headphones off.
The man peered into my eyes, then set the piece down. “Do you really want to know?”
For the next fifteen minutes he told me that it was no accident that I had seen him at that moment. In fact, he insisted, there were no accidents in this life because God had a hand in every thought, feeling and action that humans and animals and every life form in the universe experienced. He talked about the heart to head connection and God’s place in that. His passion for translating the piece really struck me. He seriously wanted me to understand the meaning, and he took his time, pointing to one gold embroidered word at a time.
His cousin tapped her foot in the doorway of her house, “C’mon,” she urged the young man. “You’re supposed to be helping me, remember?”
The man waved her off. At that moment, he was more interested that I, a total stranger, had my question answered. What’s it say?
He traced a few more letters and looked back at me. “This means that there is so much in the world we don’t see and can’t understand.”
He wanted to go on, but his cousin was impatient, and I admitted I needed to get going myself or I’d be late for a lunch with a friend. “Before you go,” he said with all seriousness, “you need to know the most important word in the piece, the most important word a person can ever utter. Hamdullah.”
He struggled to sum it up. “It’s everything.”
Later, I did a little online research. Hamdullah means “All praise is due to Allah.”
Why has this chance meeting stuck with me?
I think it was the openness of the young man himself. He was unabashedly reverent. He believed that we were all connected. Without knowing me, he assumed I was a good person. Someone deserving of respect and his time. Someone who might benefit from learning a bit about the Muslim faith.
Sandwiched in the day where work, paying bills, taking care of families, staying in touch with friends, and trying to avoid too many carbs, we need chance meetings.
Curiosity led me to ask: What’s it say?
Wonder brought the man to share his deepest beliefs.
In a time when snap judgements and misunderstandings abound, a chance meeting reminded me that, once in a while, it couldn’t hurt to pluck out the proverbial earbuds and listen to others with different backgrounds and experiences. In doing so, I have to believe our humanity would shine as brightly as those gold Arabic letters in the sun.