Mohammad moved to Michigan last spring, soon after we finished writing the first draft of Once We Were Strangers. I drove him around Lancaster, trying to find a moving truck. I felt like I was helping one of my kids prepare to relocate to a faraway college–I was proud, anxious, and scared. I hoped he would find new friends. I hoped that Michigan would be kind to him and his family.
He wanted to negotiate with the man who rented the trucks. He always wants to negotiate. We finalized the arrangements, and I took him home. I remember waving to him through the open window of my car, the warmth of spring following me home. It is never easy to say good-bye.
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We talk on the phone about once a week. He called me a few weeks before Christmas.
“When are you coming for Christmas?” he asked me, laughing. He is nothing if not persistent.
“I’m sorry, Mohammad,” I said. “We won’t be able to come out this year. It’s a ten-hour drive! Why did you have to move so far?”
“I know, I know,” he said, regret in his voice. “It is very far.”
When I first volunteered with Church World Service, I did it because I thought I might be able to help someone. Give someone some money, or a ride to a job interview, or find them some furniture. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would find a friend.
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Our lives go on, though. When we talk, Mohammad tells me about his job, how school is going for his children, how Moradi is adjusting. I tell him I’m no longer driving for Uber, that we haven’t yet had snow, that the city of Lancaster misses him. He laughs and talks in a wistful voice.
“Yes, yes. I miss Lancaster. Very much.”
He texts me a picture of him and his brothers from 1986, before he was married, when he still lived in Syria. He looks very happy. On December 20th, he sends me a Happy Birthday text with kissy faces. I laugh out loud and show Maile.
I wonder what new friendships might be in store for me in 2019. I wonder what new friendships might be in store for you? Are we open to these things? Are we willing to embrace someone who we don’t understand, a friendship we cannot possibly expect?
Keep your eyes open.
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I would love to come speak at your church this year about my book Once We Were Strangers, friendship, the Good Samaritan, or what Jesus meant when he said to love your neighbor. If that’s something you would be interested in, please use the contact button above to get in touch. And have a wonderful 2019!