The 14-hour flight to Delhi wasn't the way I'd pictured it. In my vision, our group of 19 college students studying abroad would be sitting together, watching movies, playing travel-Scrabble, and snoozing. Instead, we were scattered, wedged in like sardines.
As I settled in between two Indian men, I exchanged glances with others in the group who were also clearly wishing that we were sitting together instead of being thrust so abruptly into what would be eight weeks of new and challenging experiences. We were still struggling to let go of our comfort zones. But within moments, I was to get a lesson in a broader sense of comfort.
The man to my left held out his hand. "Hi, I'm Arijit, what's your name?" Then he leaned over and introduced himself and me to the man to my right, Mohit. Arijit then said, "I'm convinced we will never find peace in the world if we don't make friends with the people we come in contact with."
Arijit's words reminded me of the life and teachings of Christ Jesus, who had several healing encounters with those of other nations on his travels. Once, while he was in Samaria, he asked a woman who was getting water at a well to give him some of it to drink.
She replied, "How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans." Jesus answered, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water" (John 4:9, 10). Jesus then shared with this woman a whole new view of life – eternal life that wells up exhaustlessly from, and is embraced forever by, God. A view of life that could transform her life.
What a way to approach an exchange between strangers! Perhaps Jesus saw every contact with others, no matter what their nationality, gender, or religion, as an opportunity to love them in response to the one Love that embraces all. He lived the two great commandments to love God and to love one's neighbor as oneself.
Arijit's comments helped me see that we, too, can do this. We can reach beyond shyness and uncertainty and be obedient to Love. We can care enough to make even casual encounters opportunities to love God more by honoring the good in one another. We can love in a way that realizes and rejoices in the necessity of each one of us as part of the wholeness of infinity.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote, "As an active portion of one stupendous whole, goodness identifies man with universal good" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," p. 165). Loving our neighbors as ourselves expands our awareness of the one Love, God. It can begin with small encounters and lead to bigger ones, as it did on the plane.
As we ate our Indian dinners, talked about our families, and laughed together watching Hindi movies, Arijit, Mohit, and I became friends. But we also became more appreciative of one another's countries and cultures, more open to seeing good in everyone we meet. This openness of heart was to prove very important in the weeks in India that followed.
For instance, one evening I was invited to a family's home for dinner. We didn't speak much of each other's language. But remembering the love that had flowed on the plane, I accepted with anticipation of seeing what unexplored goodness Spirit would open up for us. It was one of the richest experiences of my trip. I left with hugs and an invitation to come back often.
These are such simple beginnings, yet each experience rings true, encouraging me to make every contact one of greater "love for God and for my neighbor as myself." I'm convinced that this contributes in some small way to peace for our world. Meanwhile, with every expanding experience, the straitjacket of familiarity is loosening. A broader sense of comfort reveals the potential of freely living and moving in infinite Love.