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On a cool October Thursday morning outside a Silver Line Metro station in Northern Virginia, sharing the Baha’i Faith and contemplating profound philosophical questions weren’t exactly on my mind. Arriving at a crucial business meeting on time was.
The Uber App on my phone noted that Jim (not his real name) would pick me up shortly. At 8:24 a.m., a tan Chevy Cruze pulled up. The driver appeared to be in his early- to mid-sixties, of medium build.
Driving on After Crushing Blows
Jim struck me as a seasoned, articulate, capable guy. After talking about driving Uber, he then told me his life story–or, rather, what snapshots he could mention in our fourteen-minute trip. Originally from New York City, he said that he was one of eleven siblings, with six sisters and four brothers. He had originally studied theology before a career in mortgages and real estate. Subsequently, in the last few years, Jim had driven for Uber.
He explained to me that he’d just returned from a cruise with his siblings. Sadly, one of his sisters had lost a son ten years ago, and they were on the cruise in his memory. Currently, he explained, he has 104 nieces and nephews.
Jim proceeded to share with me the sorrows of his recent years. He related that his thirty-year marriage had collapsed two years ago, and explained the crushing feeling that the divorce triggered. Adding to his anguish, Jim lamented that his son, one of his four children, got married but didn’t invite Jim–yet another crushing experience.
The most wrenching part, though, was a harrowing accident overseas. He’d saved up from driving to take a trip to Thailand, where he took a Moped tour. Jim explained that as a teenager he rode motorcycles and always wore a helmet. Decades later, he insisted on wearing a helmet during that fateful trip in Thailand.
A car struck him. Without that helmet, he would have been in the next world. As it happened, he was unconscious and hospitalized with severe head injuries. Ten days later, he awoke, with three of his nephews, who had flown to Thailand to support him, at his bedside. He had no idea where he was. To this day, Jim has no recollection of the accident, but the after-effects persist. He pointed out the scar on his bald pate, and told me that he weeps more often since the injury.
Sharing the Faith
After he related the story, I said, “I’m so sorry to hear that … God wants you around.” Jim concurred as we neared our destination. Noting his theological background, I gave sharing the Baha’i teachings a shot.
“Have you heard of the Baha’i Faith?”
“Yes.” He was rapt with attention.
“This is the best thing I can tell you. I hope you look into it for yourself.”
We had a quick exchange because vehicles couldn’t stay in the restricted zone where he had parked.
“Baha’i,” I said, spelling it out: “B-A-H-A-I. You can go to Bahai.us … there’s even an app for Baha’i prayers.” I hastily jotted down “Bahai Faith Bahai.us Bahai Prayers App” on a piece of aqua blue-lined perforated paper in my portfolio, ripped it out, and handed it to him. “Look for yourself.”
“Thank you!” Jim exclaimed. “God bless,” we told each other while shaking hands at 8:38 a.m.
After he dropped me off, check-in for the meeting took a few minutes. Then the security guard asked me, “Do you know that gentleman?”
“He’s my Uber driver.”
“He needs to move,” grunted the guard.
After dropping me off, Jim had remained in the restricted zone area all that time. Perhaps he was already exploring the Baha’i Faith–or at least downloading the app onto his phone.
Insights and Fate
Was I meant to converse with Jim and share a smidgeon of the Baha’i Faith that morning?
Each one of an infinite number of events leading up to the moment when he picked me up could have shifted this sequence. What if the meeting were on Wednesday afternoon in a different location, as was first proposed? What if, on the way to my neighborhood Metro stop, I would have hurried back home to grab an umbrella, given the overcast skies and slight drizzle? What if, before the ride, I’d stayed a few extra minutes in the coffee shop at the Metro Station, or succumbed to the temptation to order a more-time-consuming-to-prepare Pumpkin Spice Latte instead of a simple coffee? What if I had the other Uber driver who arrived just before Jim to pick up another passenger?
The Baha’i writings show that such processes can have a divine origin:
Thou hadst asked about fate, predestination and will. Fate and predestination consist in the necessary and indispensable relationships which exist in the realities of things. These relationships have been placed in the realities of existent beings through the power of creation and every incident is a consequence of the necessary relationship. For example, God hath created a relation between the sun and the terrestrial globe that the rays of the sun should shine and the soil should yield. These relationships constitute predestination, and the manifestation thereof in the plane of existence is fate. Will is that active force which controlleth these relationships and these incidents. Such is the epitome of the explanation of fate and predestination. – Abdul Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 167.
The ride back to the Metro station showed me that meeting Jim was likely preternatural, because the day’s second driver was named Ahmad. That struck me as uncanny. You see, Baha’u’llah addressed one of his best-known prayers to an early Baha’i by that name. It ends:
By God! Should one who is in affliction or grief read this Tablet with absolute sincerity, God will dispel his sadness, solve his difficulties and remove his afflictions. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 211.
I fervently hope Jim reads it.