Paths Collided

My unlikely friendship with Fatima was destined to be.  Neither of us were looking for a fight—or a friendship—but we were open to God intervening in our daily lives…  (As published in the Yemeni American News, October, 2016)

Dented by Destiny

It was a normal fall school day for my three kids. I was a little late picking them up, so I was in a rush to get to their classes, collect all their things and usher them to the car. I wasn’t thinking about making a new friend, finding grace in unfortunate circumstances, or modeling the virtue of honoring your parents on that chilly afternoon. I just wanted to get out of an over-crowded parking lot and home to feed my kids a snack after their long day at school.

Relieved to be out of the parking lot, I accelerated down the side street to the stop sign. That was the moment I encountered Fatima. Fatima was a girl in her early 20s who picked her young cousins up from school on her way home from studying at the university library. I’d like to say that I figuratively “bumped” into Fatima and struck up a conversation. But instead, I rather literally bumped into the rear end of her car with the front end of mine.

Fatima reminded me a lot of myself in such situations—she didn’t remember the name of the street we were on. She was very apologetic for having been bumped into, and she was trusting of me and ready to take down my information and be on our way.

As a teen learning to drive, I learned fender-bender protocol from my dad, who always warned me to be cautious because people take advantage of situations like that. This encounter felt different, and I think both Fatima and I felt it. But, like me, Fatima’s father worried about his young, friendly, trusting-of-others daughter who had recently been taken advantage of in another fender-bender situation. So, it wasn’t surprising that when she called for her father’s advice, he was quick to say, “Call the police!”

Honor Your Father and Mother

Apologetically, Fatima asked me if I minded that she called the police. Considering the price of a ticket, I bit my lip, and then thought of my kids in the car watching my every kids-car-edited-bigmove. Fatima was honoring her father who only wanted to protect her. He had no idea what this situation was like. My dad would have counseled me the same. My husband would probably give our daughters that advice, too. I took a deep breath. I agreed that listening to her father’s advice was the best move. I silently prayed that maybe I wouldn’t get a ticket.

That was the best hour I’ve ever had waiting for an officer to arrive. Fatima and I discussed university life and libraries, I shared every snack in my purse with her cousins and my three kids, and all the kids ran races to the corner and back to pass the time.

The cop arrived and issued my ticket. I felt the tears coming, but tried not to make an emotional scene. I thanked him for doing his job and hugged Fatima good-bye. On the way home, my inquisitive oldest daughter wanted to know why Fatima had to call the police—voicing my own silent complaint. It was a good teachable moment to highlight the important principle for children to obey your parents, for this is right. It was a good choice for Fatima to make, even though it was not what I wanted her to do.

Since before the officer arrived we had exchanged phone numbers, I texted my new acquaintance after the incident, telling her I was glad to have met her and that I hoped everyone was okay. I prayed for her and pondered at why God would have our paths collide in this universe and where it could possibly go from there.

From Court to Coffee

The officer on the scene advised me to “contest” my ticket and wait for a court date. Since my run-ins with the justice system were thankfully pretty sparse, I had no idea that my new friend would be subpoenaed as well. I also had no idea how to answer all her questions when she called me right after she got her subpoena in the mail, “What do I wear to court? Where do I go? What do I say?”

On the Tuesday morning of my court date I managed to squeeze in substitute teaching for two Spanish classes at a local college before heading to contest my ticket. As I was racing (at the speed limit, of course) from the college to the court, Fatima called frantically for directions. Directions from me? Did she know that I get lost even at the mall? And that I celebrate every time I make it to Northville without a U-turn? I fumbled my way through giving her directions and we both managed to find our way to the court—PHEW!

Fatima and I sat next to each other on the hard wooden bench as we awaited my turn before a magistrate. An hour later I paid my ticket. It happened to be the exact amount I earned subbing for the Spanish classes that morning. Then Fatima and I headed off to Starbucks where we lost track of time, sharing our lives for the next two hours. What an amazing moment. I told her I believed that ours was a strange but divine encounter God had arranged for us, and she agreed. She said, “If I were older and wiser and Greek, I’d be you!” I agreed that even though our lives, cultures, and religions were so different, there was something so similar about her personality and mine. We talked faith and love and friendship and hardship. I felt in that moment that God’s kingdom had touched down in my little world.

As I headed home, high on my divine moment, I no longer wondered why the fender-bender, or the ticket. I felt like this encounter was inevitable. I was glad that Fatima chose to honor her father that day we met—otherwise we would have just exchanged information and been on our way. Waiting for the officer gave us time to get to know each other. Going to court gave us a reason to reunite. Three years later, we still get together for coffee and share life stories. Since the day our paths collided, I was drawn to Fatima’s kind and adventuresome spirit, the everyday-radical kind of living that opened us both up to our unique friendship.

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