Some Stories from My Book

I thought some of you might appreciate some stories from my new book, “The Wisdom Stories: Finding Wisdom in the Ordinary.”  (If you want to order the book, you can do it right HERE.)

Check out these three stories.

Osman and Me

osman and molly

I had just gotten my boarding pass and was trying to make my way to the gate.

I walked right in front of a man as he prayed. He was on his knees, his forehead gently resting on a scarf on the floor.

I sat down a few feet away and waited for several minutes—maybe five—as he prayed to God there in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Three times he stood, and three times he prayed. When he was done, he sat down.

“May I ask you a few questions?” I asked. “I will totally understand if you do not want to talk.”

“Yes,” he said. He stood from where he was sitting and sat down in the chair next to me.

“I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, and just haven’t sought out this kind of conversation. Can I ask you about your prayer? Will you tell me about that?”

With a British accent, he began, and I listened.

He told me about the five times a day he prays, each time facing Mecca.

I asked him, “How do you know which way Mecca is?”

“I carry a small compass with me.”

His name was Osman, and he was from England. He was an accountant who worked on projects run by the World Bank and the United Nations.

We talked for a while, Osman and me.

He was in Minneapolis visiting his mom and sister. They were there also praying with him.

“What do you think about everything that’s happening in the world?” I asked.

He shared with me that he was in Minneapolis when Donald Trump spoke of his plans to block all Muslims from entering the United States.

“I have my opinions,” he said. “But if you got to know me, you would know that I am just me. I am a good person. Human like everybody.”

“There are the extremes,” he said. “There is Trump, and there is ISIS. But neither of these speak for the millions of people who live in between.”

He told me about a “sermon” he heard that day at a Muslim gathering in Minneapolis. The speaker was talking to the crowd about the importance of showing people like me the side of their faith not often seen in the media, to be open to encounters like the one we are having.

“You seem like an open person too,” he said.

We smiled at each other.

We talked about our kids. He had two boys and two girls.

I told him about my boy living in New York and my daughter getting ready to graduate.

I asked him if I had shown disrespect by walking in front of him as he prayed, and said that if I had I certainly didn’t mean to.

We smiled again.

I told him I would like to write about our exchange and share it with my friends, but that I would share it with him first. So I did, and he felt good about it too. And now we share it with you. Osman and me.

What nugget of wisdom did you find in this story?

Dear Trump Supporter in the Baggage Claim Area

I knew you were a Trump supporter because you had a shirt on that said Trump 2016.

You were an overweight white man—in your fifties, I’m guessin’. You wore a baseball cap backward on your head, a pair of shiny athletic shorts, socks, and a pair of work boots.

I saw you earlier on the plane as I passed you. I wrote the story of you in my head on the way to my seat—the story I read every day in the news—white, Southern, probably racist, uneducated, angry, and lower income. I’m not proud of myself for that.

We were in baggage claim when I saw you again, but this time you were with your daughter … your daughter in her wheelchair. She was in her teens, a person with Downs syndrome.

I watched you get down on one knee and ever so tenderly offer the slice of apple you had pulled from a Disney princess lunchbox. You handed it to her. Smiled as she ate it. You handed her another. She smiled again. You offered the water bottle. She drank. You were patient, oh so patient.

“Anything else honey?” you asked.

She shook her head.

I watched you smile. I watched her smile. And for that moment I saw you.

Damn the media. Damn these stories. Damn it all.

What nugget of wisdom did you find in this story?

Gladys

gladys

In 2014, after a year and a half of working on Capitol Hill, I set off on across-country trip. With no specific itinerary. I drove from town to town listening to Americans share from their own perspectives what was causing the highly polarized state of our nation.

I was three weeks into the trip when I started talking with Gladys, the hostess at a restaurant in El Paso, Texas.

Gladys pointed across the interstate: “That’s Juarez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in all of Mexico. Violence there is so frequent it’s become commonplace, especially for women. You would be taking your life into your hands if you simply walked across the road and across the border. You will see the border police pacing along the Rio Grande. It’s very surreal.”

I later asked one of my Texas friends to explain how this can be.

“El Paso is one of the safest cities in the United States,” he explained. “The Cartel that has so corrupted the government, police, and security in Juarez wants no attention drawn to them, so they keep their illegal activity to just across the border.”

I tried to see across the river, but it was too dark. Gladys spoke Spanish. She grew up in El Paso, went to college, and returned. She was very friendly. I asked her what she thought about the people living in Mexico who are dropping their children on the American side of the border between the two countries.

“I understand why,” she said. “You will see Juarez in the morning, when you head east on Interstate 10. I’m not a mother yet, but if I were a mom, I wouldn’t know what else to do either.”

Joseph, my waiter, sat down at the table and joined in. “We are a culture who bonds through polarization. It’s not just politics. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything. The whole idea of ‘divide and conquer’—it’s how we think. It’s how we are trained.”

“What can we do about it?” I asked him.

“What we are doing right here—talking to each other and sharing our stories. This is what we can do about it.”

The next morning, I headed east on the interstate. Just like Gladys told me, I saw the border patrol officer first. He was walking along the banks of the Rio Grande.

Looking down into the river itself, I saw a fence there.

Juarez is close enough that I could see it in detail. Shanties and shacks, constructed out of what looked like cement blocks, were crumbling down the mountainside. The roads were so poorly engineered that I wasn’t sure cars could use them. I didn’t see any cars, people, or life.

There were bikes leaning up against cement walls and clothes hanging from clotheslines. They blew in the hot wind.

I glanced back to the interstate ahead of me. The billboards (there were dozens of them) called to me: Gucci. Subway. Starbucks. Boots. Comfort Inn. Pandora.

What nugget of wisdom did you find in this story?

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