Getting from America to Europe is like hopscotch: one way or the other, it’s a series of hops, skips, and jumps. My journey this week included a quick hop from Denver to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, a short skip for lunch, and finally a long jump to LHR, London’s Heathrow Airport. Denver is reasonably global, but Chicago’s ORD and London’s LHR are awesome. Both are massively cross-cultural, diverse, polyglot, and in some sense, densely exotic.
I was trying to make sense of ambiguous signs on my way from O’Hare’s Terminal 3 to International departures in Terminal 5. I saw the right words, but couldn’t discern the true meaning of the messages. I was asking for help and like a humanoid inch worm, made progress Terminal 5-ward one person-with-a-badge at a time. These people were great.
Just as I was turning toward the elevator-to-the-Bridge, a young man—perhaps from India—entered my field of vision. He stuck out his hand and announced “I’m Raju.” I replied, “I’m David.” He smiled broadly and queried, “David?” I added, “David Dunn.” He beamed and I had the clear sense that we had become instant friends.
We found our way to the train, but when we stopped at Terminal 3, Raju suddenly got off. 15 minutes later, after I had checked in at Terminal 5 and was walking toward the sandwich shop, I ran into Raju again. He had left the train by mistake, and was just going to check in. I asked it he would be eating lunch. He nodded and I said that I’d wait for him.
Within minutes of his return we had agreed to share a Chicken and Pesto Flatbread, which he paid for with his American Express card. We sat at a small table with an elderly Filipino man. Raju quizzed me about my work, whether my blog brought in any income, and why I’d decided to be a freelancer. He listened with wrapt attention and pressed for clarification.
I asked him about his background and work. He is from Bangalore, had studied at a Jesuit college, earned an MBA, and is a software engineer employed by a London consulting firm. He looks and acts like a sophisticated global citizen: impeccable British English, professional degree, working as an IT consultant. He commutes biweekly from London to work with a client in Louisville, Kentucky. Today he was heading back to Bangalore for a three-week visit.
I ventured a query: “Is three weeks in Bangalore too short or maybe too long?” He laughed and said “I don’t know yet. I’m going to meet my future wife.” He might have seen the “I’m fascinated to hear that” smile flood my face. I asked, “An arranged marriage?!” I noted a “yes; what am I getting myself into” expression on his face. I said, “Wow,” approvingly and he replied, “Yes.”
I remarked that I had lived and worked in Calcutta in 1978–79. It took him just a moment of computation before he said, “Wow! That was before I was born!” The date blows my mind in the other way. He asked me to recall where I had visited and what work I did. I talked about village development, my Bihari colleague J.P. and our visits to Ranchi and the Xavier Institute of Social Services (XISS). He was impressed.
I’m not sure when or how the conversation began to migrate in the direction of religion, beliefs, globality, and the marvel of life, travel, and freedom. I had described my summer “Listening Odyssey,” my fascination with what is happening to people, my delight in being able to spend time with friends in the UK and on the continent. We’d wondered about the consequences of the “Brexit” vote and the various political illusions and economic challenges it has highlighted.
Raju talked about helping clients design IT systems to the transition from their outdated legacy software to new Cloud-based computer systems. I picked up on the inadequacy of legacy systems in another context: the Church and theology. The question that keeps me up at night is exactly the question of what to do with the Church’s legacy beliefs and systems. He seemed to appreciate my use of his IT language. A lively conversation followed.
Just last year I had said out loud for the first time that I was no longer a theist—that the image of God as a Being out there in the Universe somewhere just didn’t make sense. Raju nodded and said that he wasn’t sure whether or not he was an atheist, but that “God” surely had something to do with what is real. I nodded in agreement: “It’s way more meaningful for me to think about ‘reality’ or ‘the way life is’ than to worry about the existence of God. He nodded.
We mused on the wonder of meeting, growing our imaginations, seeing lively, creative forces working in the world, and agreed that all of that had to do with God.
Raju had been texting off and on as we’d been talking, checking to see if his bride-to-be was awake and available. Suddenly he said, “I have to go now. I can talk with her. It’s been an honor talking with you.” I said, a bit startled by “honor”: “The honor is mine. It’s been great. Travel safely and I hope that you have a great visit with your future bride.” With that he got up, we shook hands, and he was gone.
Synchronicity is the occasion for untold human delights and discoveries. It’s a gift that always startles me and then seems like the most natural, inevitable fact of life—always so predictably unpredictable.