Air France from San Francisco to Paris:
10:17AM (San Francisco time)
Seatbelts clicking. Children chittering. Crinkly wrappers unwrapping. An exit row seat with a few inches more leg room since I consented to move in order to accommodate a family who needed to be together. I’m in my least favorite center seat because I just offered to trade with a super-tall young man so he could stretch out a little bit more, perhaps. He was grateful. The guy by the window is even taller and he has a seat with no seat in front of him and his 6ft long legs are stretched waaaaay out. Luxury.
I’ve adjusted the air to hit my face perfectly. I unfortunately must have left my eye cover in my backpack above me and I’m not about to climb all over these long limbs surrounding me to get it! At least I can put my earphones in and listen to my iPod when they give the okay. I’ve got a great new pillow from REI – a ThermaRest wonder.
When I arrived at the gate, I called everyone I love the best. They told me what they always do: Be careful. Be safe. Call me. If anything happens to you, I’ll be right there. I love you.
Three hours to Minneapolis. 1-hour layover. Then on to Paris!
3:30PM (Minneapolis time)
I have actually slept a bit. It felt good and I plan to do more of it the next leg of the trip: overnight to Paris. I bought some cheese and fruit and crackers and ate it all. I am not hungry now so maybe I can take some sleeping meds during the layover and then just go to sleep straightaway. I need water, though. Lots of it on these flights.
6:20PM (Minneapolis time)
I’m on my way to Paris. (I think I should probably rephrase that: “I’m on my way to Paris!!!”)
My seatmate is a wonderful language and religion professor from Morocco. Professor Khan is a very dynamic, warm, approachable, and humble man. He shared with me some feelings about the world as he understands it. Sitting with a professor who is especially kind is a complete gift for this inquisitive mind of mine. But, instead of asking a stream of questions, I know instinctively to listen to this soft-spoken and very wise man, and I ask him if I may write down his words as he speaks:
He is Muslim. “But my religion is not narrow-minded.”
“The best religion is to love one another.”
“A smiling face is good. You can’t chase happiness with wealth, with your deeds or actions.”
“When you help an aged person, this happiness you cannot buy with money.”
Generally, he’s a vegetarian. He avoids red meat. “I love simple food.” (He ordered a Muslim meal – no pork – and shared it with me.) “In Morocco, couscous is eaten in a big bowl with the hands.”
He is a professor of Religion. He teaches Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism. He was born a Muslim, “But I am not narrowminded,” he reminds me again. “I attend all the churches of these religions. If you go in deep, you find wonderful things in all religions.”
“Jesus was so nice. Even he felt, give them the other cheek. He had an extreme degree of tolerance. Lutherans, Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Methodist, between them there is often no tolerance. I don’t know Christianity but I want to know.”
“Hinduism started from the industry world, it is not a religion. Bank of River Indus. Paramatman. In Hinduism, the people are harmless but there are problems. There are sects. All people are equal. Brahman – born from the mouth of God. Others are subordinate. They must serve Brahman. If he kills, he will hardly be punished.”
“When I teach, I focus on universal standings, not on controversy. We must love and understand each other. God is great, he lives in our hearts.”
“Meditation. This you must do.”
“When I pray, I just sit there and close my eyes and say, ‘God, help me to be nice to people.'”
“I respect human beings.”
“There are many bad things in our society.”
“I feel pensive with so many divorces. It hurts. We must develop tolerance. We must try to live together.”
“My wife and I have been married for 45 years. I am my wife. My wife is my soul.”
“Renate, I think you are very kind. I hope success for you and happiness for you. I will pray for you.”
“In Morocco, there are two oceans, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. It lies very close to the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain, and Portugal. The population is 37,000,000. There are four seasons. It snows in the Mountains of Aclase.”
“I’m international. Broad-minded.”
“Please advise your children that religion is very important. Without religion we are not happy. We find contentment when we pray a lot.”
“There is transport available in Morocco: trains, buses, taxis.”
“8.50 Moroccan Dirhams = $1″
“Jesus spoke Aramaic. The Muslim faith says he was not crucified.”
“The philosophy of the Trinity comes from Hinduism and Christianity, too.”
“Hindus have many gods. There is the distribution of work. God of work, etc.”
“Krishna came down in human form and he was God.”
“I speak Hindi, Urdu (I lived in Pakistan years ago), Iran is my neighbor so I spoke Persian/Farsi in high school, and Arabic (in Arab countries) and French. I learned to speak English by living in the U.S. but my English is very poor.” (He is
being incredibly humble. His English is almost better than mine!)
“The French language is the diplomatic language.”
“Please give my compliments and my friendship to your family for having a precious and kind person like you.”
“My philosophy is don’t harm to anyone but don’t allow anyone to harm you.”
“This world is very beautiful but from Man’s actions, we make the world bad.”
“What I like for myself, I must want this for another.”
“Balance is very hard.”
“Any religion is very hard.”
“In Islam, they say, ‘Paradise lies in the feel of mothers.'”
Unfortunately, I begin to nod off. I was so anxious to sleep when this flight started and now I am incredibly disappointed that I cannot listen to Professor Khan longer. We shared our pretzels and the vegetables and hummus I bought and our dinners. I had another glass of wine. And, then I apologized and slept.
And, now it is morning. My sleepy eyes turn to the beautiful patchwork quilt of France below us and, soon, my flight with Professor Khan will be over. I am sad about that, but excited about the rest of my journey.
As we near Paris, Professor Khan smiles at me gently. He makes me promise to always be optimistic, to always seek happiness, to not let tension or stress keep me from being ultimately optimistic.”
And, with these words, our flight ended and we parted. What a blessing it was to have Professor Khan as my seatmate.
Thank you, Professor.