Ch 55. Turning
Elena was planning a big dinner that night, so she asked Jesus Jospehovich to help pick up groceries for the meal. Abraham, the medical student from Nigeria, was coming to eat with them and he was already on his way to pick up Jesus Josephovich.
Abraham pulled up in an old green Volkswagon, the brakes squeaking loudly as he stopped next to the curb.
“You have a car?” Jesus asked.
“No,” Abraham laughed. “My friend let me borrow it to run some errands. Elena wants us to pick up food at the Mega Mart on the other side of the city, but I swear, it’s faster to take the metro than drive a car in this crazy place. There is so much traffic.”
Jesus Josephovich entered the vehicle. Abraham stared at him, but didn’t move the car.
“Your seat belt,” Abraham said.
“My what?” the foreigner replied confused.
Abraham pulled his seat belt away from his chest to illustrate what it was and how to put it on.
“Oh,” Jesus said as he fiddled with the strap, trying to untangle it from the strap behind it. “No one’s ever asked me to use one of these before.”
“I know,” Abraham laughed. “People in this country don’t use those things. Sometimes they’re even insulted when I put it on, like they think I don’t trust their driving.”
“Do you trust their driving?”
“Never, man,” Abraham joked. “They are crazy. There are no rules.”
Abraham pulled the car out of the alleyway and into the crowded street where they immediately stopped fast in a long line of cars. The line stretched as far as Abraham could see.
He sighed angrily. “You see. There’s always traffic like this.”
They both watched with interest as an equally frustrated driver who had just reached the traffic jam began to drive backwards. The car flew the opposite direction up the street towards the oncoming traffic, apparently assuming that they would stop for him. The car finally reached a small street and turned down it away from the traffic.
“Hey, maybe that’s a shortcut,” Abraham thought.
He changed gears with a grinding screech and the little Volkswagon lurched backwards towards the oncoming cars.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Jesus wondered aloud as they drove the wrong way up the street.
“I’m in Ukraine. I should drive like a Ukrainian.” Abraham winked.
Cars weaved around them honking aggressively as their car made its way back to the small side street. They received a few angry looks, but to Jesus Josephovich’s surprise, many people began following their lead, hoping that they knew a shortcut. Car after car began driving backwards up the road, causing confused pedestrians to jump out of the crosswalk.
Abraham drove the car up and over the curb to avoid a car that had stopped just at the entrance to the side street. Jesus Josephovich’s head bounced off the top of the car as they crashed down off the curb. The gears grumbled once more as Abraham put the car into drive and sped off down the small alleyway.
They drove a few blocks down to the next intersection where they were forced to turn onto a larger street. They wound their way around over several hills until they came to the next main street, but their gamble had not paid off. There was a line of cars waiting to turn onto the main road, but traffic was so slow that none of them could turn. The cars on the main road made sure to follow inches behind the next car so that no one could merge in front of them.
Abraham slammed his steering wheel with his fist.
“This is even worse,” he shouted.
“What do you want to do?” Jesus Josephovich asked unassumingly.
“I know what I’m going to do,” Abraham said as he lurched the car backwards again and turned the car around. “I know one other way we can go,” he said. “Maybe we can avoid some of this.”
Abraham sped the little Volkswagon through a maze of twisting turns and back alleys, driving the wrong way up a few of them, until he ended up near another major road. He drove with a kind of reckless precision that left his passenger unsure of the practicality of their “short cut”.
As they approached the intersection, they could see cars moving by. It appeared not to be gridlocked.
“Alright!” Abraham declared enthusiastically as they turned the corner onto the main street. He glanced over at Jesus Josephovich with a big smile on his face and gave his foreign friend another proud wink. But as soon as he turned his head back to the road he slammed on the breaks and the Volkswagon came to a screeching halt.
“I can’t get away from it!” Abraham stated with frustration.
“That’s ok,” Jesus Josephovich said calmly. “There are some problems that can’t be fixed with action. Some problems require inaction.”
Abraham ruffled his brow and stared at his odd friend.
“Patience,” Jesus clarified. “Some problems can only be solved with patience.”
“By doing nothing?” Abraham expanded.
“Sometimes it is more difficult to do nothing, than to try to force a solution out of a problem,” Jesus continued. “But often that is exactly what is needed. Patience. Self control. Presence.”
Abraham rolled his eyes and sighed as the car moved forward a few feet and stopped again. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be patient.”
Jesus looked intently at his friend. “Your wishes and desires are like doves. They can only fly if you let them go.”
The young man squinted his eyes, trying in vain to understand what the foreigner was telling him. He thought he understood for a moment, then lost his train of thought as the cars in front of him lurched forward. He exhaled fiercely as the cars once again came to a sudden halt.
Jesus Josephovich smiled pleasantly. “How have you been my friend?”
“Ok,” Abraham said. “School is good, but things are not getting better in this city. The crime is getting worse. Yesterday a friend of mine from Nigeria was punched on the metro. And two weeks ago a man’s wife was murdered in the park. She was African.” Abraham sighed a painful, hopeless sigh and looked straight ahead.
Jesus Josephovich glanced at the cars around them and noticed that many people were staring coldly at the black skinned driver. He looked at his friend’s hard face. “Are you afraid?”
Abraham nodded. “Of course I’m afraid. “It still isn’t safe for us to be alone or to go out at night. Just because we are black. I try to stick with friends and travel in groups, but the constant worry wears you down. I’m tired of being afraid. What can I do?”
“Do you want to change your skin color?” Jesus Josephovich asked.
“No,” Abraham laughed.
“Then there is nothing you can do.”
“Maybe I should move,” Abraham said. “I’ve been thinking about it.”
“You can move,” Jesus agreed. “But then there will simply be new problems.”
“Maybe I will get a gun.” Abraham looked at his friend out of the corner of his eye.
“You want to kill them?” Jesus wondered. “The people who hate you?”
“If they try to kill me – yes,” Abraham admitted.
“Then what makes you different from them?” his passenger asked.
“What makes me different?” Abraham shouted. “What makes me different? Everything is different. They hate me for no reason. Because I am from another country. Because I look different from them. They are stupid, evil people.”
Jesus nodded and looked out of the window at the line of cars leading into the distance. “Do you hate them?”
Abraham thought about this for a moment. He knew not to answer too quickly when talking to Jesus Josephovich. “If someone tries to kill me, then yes, I would hate them.”
“Why?” Jesus Josephovich wondered.
“Why?” Abraham shouted again. “Because they want to kill me. They hate me.”
“You hate them because they hate you?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” the student said, shrugging his shoulders and pulling the car a few feet closer.
“But you believe that your hatred is justified, because you hate them for a better reason than they hate you?” the foreigner questioned.
Abraham shook his head in confusion. “I don’t know. But I don’t feel like hating them would be wrong if they attacked me.”
“I understand,” Jesus Josephovich acknowledged. He looked back out the window at the traffic jam as several cars were trying to squeeze out of a lane that was ending. “What do you think caused the traffic jam?”
Abraham took a deep breath and looked out the side window. “I don’t know. It could be anything. Everything seems to cause a traffic jam in this place. And when there’s an accident, they don’t move the cars out of the way until the police get there. They just sit there blocking traffic for hours. It’s terrible.”
Jesus raised an eyebrow. “It’s interesting to think that this whole traffic jam might have been caused by a single car.”
Abraham snickered. “Ha, yeah. He probably doesn’t even know that he’s stopped up every road in Kiev. Some guy probably double parked to go buy some beer.”
The foreigner grinned. “Have you ever noticed that getting angry makes other people angry as well? Almost like it’s contagious.”
“Yeah, I’ve felt that before,” the driver admitted.
“And when someone hates you, you automatically hate them.”
“Yes. That’s how it seems,” Abraham agreed. “It’s not like I’m choosing to hate them. I just do it to protect myself.”
“Then it’s amazing to think that all of mankind’s hatred could have been caused by a single man hating another man,” Jesus suggested.
Abraham hit the breaks again and pondered what his companion had just said. It was almost too big an idea to fit in his head.
“Imagine,” Jesus Josephovich continued, “if a single man got so angry that he hated someone, and maybe he killed that person, and that anger and hatred got passed down to other people and it kept getting passed down again and again, making others angry and hateful, everyone hating someone for hating them, but not really knowing why or where it all came from.”
“That’s interesting, but how does that help me? I mean, what if these guys want to kill me?” Abraham wondered.
“You know the answer,” Jesus Josephovich said. “But I cannot tell you. You are not ready to hear it.”
“What do you mean I’m not ready?” Abraham exclaimed. “I listened to your crazy theory, and I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t understand what you think I should do. What do you do in a situation like that?”
The foreigner smiled and put his hand on Abraham’s shoulder. “You are not ready, but because you asked I will tell you.” He paused. “You want to know what you should do? Start with this idea: It is never right to kill another man for any reason.”
Abraham’s eyes opened wide and he slammed on the breaks again. “That’s crazy. I understand the idea, but it’s not possible.” He gripped the steering wheel tightly as a wave of emotion passed over him.
“I told you it would be difficult to believe.”
“It is. I don’t believe it. I don’t agree,” Abraham confessed. “I think there are times when you have to kill in order to survive, and to protect others, to protect your family.”
“Of course,” Jesus Josephovich agreed. “That is the belief, the feeling, the instinct that allows all animals on this earth to survive. It is the basis of conscious life. Survival.”
“Then how can it be wrong?”
“It’s not wrong,” Jesus Josephovich admitted. “Unless you are more than an animal.”
Abraham froze like a deer in headlights, his heart halting momentarily like the cars before him. That is how he had always thought that the racists treated him, like an animal. “But it doesn’t make sense,” Abraham argued.
“If you did not have a soul, if a part of you did not live on beyond this physical body, then you would be correct,” Jesus Josephovich agreed. “A lion must kill.”
“And if I believe I have a soul?” Abraham asked.
“Then you have reached the deepest of mysteries. The most difficult of all realizations.”
“That I can’t kill another being with a soul?”
Jesus shook his head kindly. “That killing another human being does not help you survive.”
Abraham considered this. “I don’t understand. I still think I should protect myself.”
“You can protect the body, but you cannot protect the soul by killing, “ the foreigner explained. “It may help your body survive, but not your soul.”
“Why?” Abraham wondered.
“This is the unexplainable mystery. You cannot see it. Few can feel it. Fewer can believe it.”
“That death is not a failure. Death is not the end,” Jesus said.
“What is death?” Abraham asked, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.
“It is a rebirth,” Jesus Josephovich claimed. “The caterpillar must give up its old self to become a new creation. Death is a necessary step for the growth and survival of the soul.”
“So I can’t kill others, but I need to die?” Abraham tried to comprehend. “Should I just kill myself then, if death is the next step?”
“No. Never,” Jesus answered. “To kill oneself is the darkest of deeds. It blinds you to all truths. Death gives birth to us all at the proper time. A baby born too early will not survive.”
“But how is killing myself different from letting someone else kill me?”
“Killing yourself consciously destroys your connection to all other things. Allowing someone to kill you, without resistance or complaint, connects you in the strongest way possible to the world around you,” Jesus Josephovich explained. “But these are deep truths. Who can understand them?”
“Not me,” the student admitted.
Abraham pondered these things in his heart. After a moment he found another loophole and shouted it out almost joyfully.
“But what about my family? What if I have children? I have to protect them. I don’t care if something bad happens to me or even to my soul, but I can’t let anything bad happen to my family,” Abraham declared selflessly.
“This is the second mystery, and for many the most difficult,” the foreigner replied. “You will never be separated from those you love.”
“That sounds great, but why is that difficult to believe?”
“It sounds simple, but consider the implications,” Jesus Josephovich said. “Think about how all of your decisions impact this circumstance. Understand that your actions are eternal.”
“What do you mean?” Abraham wondered. “They never go away? They can’t be changed?”
“The tiniest of stones will send a ripple across a lake. Your love, and lack of love, will echo through infinite time. Even beyond time, where it stands forever motionless.”
Abraham was amazed. He tried to fit this idea into his head, but it wouldn’t fit. He felt as if the whole universe were trying to pour itself into his mind, but it was overflowing right out the top and nothing was staying inside. He felt his whole being slipping away into nothingness – into something so much bigger than himself that it felt empty even though it was full in every way it is possible to be full.
“Are you beginning to see how important your life is here?” Jesus Josephovich asked him. “What you build here will never be broken.”
“My actions are eternal?” Abraham asked.
“Exactly,” Jesus said encouragingly. “Now do you think it’s possible that one man’s hatred could get passed down for generations? Can you see how that one action could have eternal repercussions?”
“I don’t know,” Abraham admitted, “but it seems possible. There are entire countries that hate each other for things that happened to their great great grandparents.”
Jesus nodded. “Indeed there are. So if that is possible, then do you also think it is possible that one man’s love could get passed down in the same way? That a single act of pure love could change the world?”
Abraham considered this. “I do,” he answered.
Jesus Josephovich smiled. “Then you must choose,” he said. “Will you choose to pass on the hatred of your fellow man, or love?”
Abraham swallowed nervously as the implications of such a love expanded before his consciousness. He slowed down his car and allowed the car to his right to merge in front of him. “I see,” he said, fully aware of the depth of his choice, but not ready to declare his answer.
The weathered car pushed through the traffic and past an intersection where two cars were blocking the right side of the road and causing the traffic jam. As they passed the two cars they noticed that there didn’t seem to be any major damage to either car.
“Hey look. It was just a small accident,” Abraham pointed out. “All that mess for nothing.”