All real living is meeting
Wandering the maze of alleys which form the bazaar in Erbil, I saw an old (70?, 80?) man sitting drinking tea. Catching his eye and greeting him with a ‘merhaba’ and a slight bow, he responded by beckoning me to sit beside him. He called the tea boy over with another glass of over-sweetened black tea. We sat and sipped tea together in congenial silence for twenty minutes communicating without words, only the occasional gesture or eye contact, watching the world go by. Suddenly, unexpectedly, mysteriously we have met. I am reminded of Martin Buber’s words: “All real living is meeting”.
‘I and thou’ made palpable in the silent comfort of a stranger who has become a friend. We blessed one another and parted.
Later in the trip, wandering in the courtyard of the mosque in Sulaymaniyah, I encountered a man a little older than me sitting on a bench in the shade dressed in a long white robe and hat. Greeting him too, I was invited to sit beside him. He had a very few words of English and indicated he was a Dervish from Baghdad. Again, we sat in wordless communication for twenty minutes or so, watching worshippers arriving and leaving, meeting in eye contact, gesture and silence. Again I left profoundly aware of the gift of having truly met someone.
Seeing joyfully and clearly
At the conclusion of Mary Oliver’s quietly rapturous poem ‘Snow geese’, she describes her response to a fleeting encounter with a skein of geese catching the sun as they fly across a limpid blue sky:
I have never
seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won’t.
It doesn’t matter.
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.”
I am left with something of the same feeling in relation to my two Iraqi friends. Unfettered by the need for language or the impulse to divide, critique, fear, judge or, God forbid, evangelise, we met profoundly, quietly, joyfully. I left them not expecting to see either again but aware that something had changed, something which is still working in me in relation to my questions: who is my neighbour, who is my enemy?
Martin Buber: “Everyone must come out of his Exile in his own way”.