I grab the latest edition of Christianity Today, and First Things and am on my way to the posh, green chairs. They're the kind you can sink into, and leaning back, start to peruse various articles and slowly drift away as the words jumble and jarble around like marbles, but with increased sloth as if they slowed in molasses; with falling eyes, soon the cushions envelope and surround with hugging arms, and with an exhaling, deep beath, sigh, you are baptized into a slumberous nap. This day, however, I stop in the philosophy section. Am I eager to gaze at the massive volumes of which I know I'll never scratch the surface, or is it the stranger standing there, holding a comic book series on postmodernism? The latter, of course--I'd traced my eager fingers over these volumes before, but this time I must know this man standing here.
I wait of course. I look at him askance. Don't want to turn anything into an overzealous event so soon; so soon to make an aquaintance and not really listen. So eager to steer the direction of the conversation with plan of defending or sharing the gospel. I've done that before, but this time I will wait. I will peruse, too (or pretend to do so). Really, I am waiting for the right moment to ask this man the right question--at the right time. I've not seen a man like this in here before. He looks very different. Almost odd--or foreign. He's shorter, and slightly older. On his head rests a strange cross between a baseball cap and a winter hat. Not sure, but is it on backwards? I don't look too intently. No need to look nosey--or suspicious. His coat is long and appropriate for winter, but his face, somewhat haggard, is bent with intensity. It's diamond shaped, with odd contours, a thin, pointed nose, deep, small eyes, a grand forehead and rough cheeks. His facial hair is either in process of beard growth, or simply has not been properly kept.
I take out Oxford's Illustrated History of Western Philosophy. Yes, this is the kind of book to read. I'll not think so highly of myself to esteem tackling the original writings of Heidegger, Hegel, Kant and so forth and pretend to understand. Look at Plato--he has a whole half a shelf! Perhaps a companion with which to embark.
A discarded thought beams through my mind like a vector, screaming across the sky: here and gone in a flash like a falling star. "An inner city man, here, interested in such intellectual endeavors?" With dismissal I recall the Benefit of the Doubt, a Withholding of Judgment, a glint of Humility. Dismal thoughts require the combat of this higher calling.
Still, mostly anglos of European descent patronize this store--this aisle of profundity draped by men in goatees, wild hair and nervous tension. Nevertheless. I study him more. "What are you interested in?" "Ah," he says. "I am interested in reading on postmodernism." His eyes are keen, his mouth, kind. In my ears is tainted French in the bonds of open African with articulate, yet not easy-to-follow English. "Where are you from?" I ask. "Sierra Leone," he replies. I hum with pursed lips and look at him. After a pause, I admit, "I know about that country. I know about the hard times there. I've seen the movie, Blood Diamond. Have you seen the film? Is it true?"
"Yes, yes." He has seen the movie. It's true. "My sistah leeve deh. She go to school and serve deh in meditzine." Much was the bloodshed in that place. Much was the horror. Many are the orphans. The love of money, power and beauty. Death in disguise.
Our conversation turns and swims through diverse caverns and bywaters. We touch it all. Raised by his Muslim mother and his Catholic father, he is brother of Methodist sisters. He's read the Koran and the Bible. After much contemplation, he is a Muslim. He used to teach history at the local university here in West Michigan, but now works for a French company training new employees at the hospital. Blood-born pathogens and food services, and other responsibilities. "The pay is much bettah. Almost ten thousand more!" He's been here since 1984.
Sadly, he says, many of his employees are uneducated, and use drugs and have babies from multiple men. "Are you going to church?" he asks them. "Yes," they say. "But," he adds, "Deh nevah return. Deh don' value education. I try to help dem, to change der lives. I try to listen and not judge. But it is so hard," he says. I add that I too wish I could do something, "but I feel so helpless," I add, with my arms held out to hold a basket, I look up to the sky and bend my knees.
He worked in Detroit, but did not like it. "Very dangerous," he says. He likes west Michigan for its conservatism. He really likes the people of Holland. "The Christian work ethic is very good. I like deh no work on Sundays." As do I, except when the plumbing breaks. We speak more on racism, the church, the existence of God. I point out some additional books in his search for postmodernism. "It's hard to pinpoint, I add. There's no author that comes right out and says, 'Aha. I'm a postmodernist. Read what I have to say. It seems to me that it came along after World War II. Do you know the painter, Jackson Pollack?" Yes, he does. I turn to motion throwing pain on a canvas and a young girl eyes our convcersation with glad envy. She wishes she could join, or listen. But her mother calls her to other ends.
"I've studied much of philosophy," he adds, "and sometimes I have doubted, but I jus' know God exists. Sometimes when I am feeling good, I jus' say 'Thank-you, Lord.'"
"My name is Farli." He spells his name. "Good to meet you, Farli." "Yes. Perhaps we'll meet again." I must return to my cubile to sell high interest loans with exhorbitant fees. Or attempt to do so, with what conscience is available. Our meeting has expired, and my lunch break is over.