Mysterious things happen on public transportation. When they do, what do they mean? What do you think about the following case?
For months, I had been trying unsuccessfully to locate Jewish students for an organizing project at San Francisco State. SFSU has been sued by pro-Israel extremists, who call the school anti-Semitic, for allowing Palestinian students to protest Israel.
As a member of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP,) I’m supporting SFSU and Palestinian rights against this bogus lawsuit. Some Jewish students willing to speak up could help sink the suit by truthfully saying they feel comfortable on campus and have not experienced antisemitism. But I’m not student or faculty there, and there’s no JVP chapter on campus, and I hadn’t found any help.
So, on Sunday, I spent the day at a Palestinian cultural festival in Golden Gate Park. Then I went to a JVP meeting, wearing a t-shirt that said “Palestinians Should Be Free.” Coming home around 9:30 PM, my MUNI M car was delayed for some reason, so I got on a K car to get closer to home. On a bench facing me, a large bearded man looked at my shirt and started loudtalking me.
“Palestinians are losers. They deserve what they get. The UN gave them everything but they just want to kill Jews” And on and on. It didn’t take long to realize there was no point in talking with him, so I mostly stayed quiet. He said, “I’m Jewish. You’re Jewish too, right?” I said, “Yes. I’m with Jewish Voice for Peace. This is their t-shirt.”
That really set him off. He got louder, talking about Nazis and my being a fool, and how bad JVP was. He started to act more aggressively, standing up from his seat and sitting back down, leaning forward to get closer.
Then a tall man who had been standing a little farther away moved over and got between us. That’s one of the bystander actions people are encouraged to take in bullying situations. My harasser started talking angrily to him, then went back to yelling at me, looking around the bystander to see me. At Forest Hill Station, the loudmouth got up and left with a few parting insults. Everyone relaxed.
My protector started talking with a young woman who had been seated on the other side of the harasser. I couldn’t hear much but made out they were both connected with SF State. I rolled up closer to them and asked the woman if she was a student at State. She said she was and asked if I worked there. I briefly explained my involvement in the issues I have described above.
She said she had heard about some of that and was interested in finding out more. I asked if she was Jewish, and she is, and she’s interested in getting involved in these issues. We exchanged contact info.
As we were splitting up at West Portal station, she said, “I’m sorry about the abuse that guy gave you.” I said, “It was a gift. I’ve been looking for someone like you, and if it hadn’t been for him, and the man who helped me, and your talking to him, we would have missed each other.”
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The next day I posted that story on Facebook, just the way I wrote it here, only without the title and with the introductory sentences “God is good. Here’s an example.”
I got a lot of positive comments and likes, but many people were upset about the mention of God. One friend, Chris wrote “Yes, of course. God chose to intervene in this instance, while allowing thousands of innocent children to starve and or die under horrifying conditions each and every day, but he sent that person to intercede on your behalf.”
Rick commented, “This wasn’t divine intervention or a mystery. A jerk gave you a hard time. A good guy came and helped you out. Those things happen.”
I guess I wasn’t clear. I don’t believe there is an entity called God who makes decisions and takes actions, and jumped in on my behalf on the K-Car. But something mysterious happened, and those kinds of things happen to me fairly often.
No miracle. Still, I was looking for a Jewish SF State student, and it took a lot of luck to bring us together. Why did I take the K-Car instead of waiting for the M, which I would eventually need to get home? What got this asshole to react angrily to my t-shirt instead of taking a nap? How did it happen that the SFSU student was sitting next to the abusive guy, and what got her talking to my helper, and why did they talk about State? This was like an answer to a prayer, but I don’t pray.
Here’s what I think about God. The religions we know in the West: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, believe a super-being called God made the world and gave it to humans to run. To me, this is a dangerous delusion. Most other world religions believe God IS the world, and humans are a part of God. God is everything that is, from molecules to stars, the wind, the rain, the worms, you, me, everyone. Nature is another word for God.
Now I think of God as the eternal, universal interplay, (thanks Kim Randoloph for that word) with the emphasis on “play.” It all works together, in ways we can’t possibly understand. And not always in ways we want. But many times, if you let the world work and don’t try to direct it or judge it, good things come to you.
Like food. How does that come to you? Put together the Sun, the Earth, the animals and plants, the insects and worms and bacteria, the farmers and farmworkers and delivery people, the people who paid you money to buy it, and the others, and what have you got? In some social settings, I call it God. Other times, not. It’s just a word.