Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)
In June, I met a guy from Tunisia, the first person I’ve ever met from that country. He picked us up on the Pont Marie in Paris. We were headed to the rental car desk at Charles de Gaulle airport. He spoke a little English, we barely spoke any French and no Arabic. He understood airport, but we were having trouble identifying the exact place at the airport we needed to stop. At CDG there is Terminal 1, Terminal 3, and then Terminals 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, 2E, 2F, and 2G, all surrounded by a two-level highway reminiscent of a rollercoaster track.
Fortunately, we were able to speak with his boss by phone, who clarified that our drop off spot should be between Terminals 2E and 2F. That essential piece of business squared away, we settled in for a long ride.
My husband Tom is pretty good when we travel about initiating conversation and engaging with people in their language. He’s the one who actually studies the language ahead of time while I figure I will magically remember it all from my studies in 1971. Tom began to try out his French with the driver while I paged through my phrase book, staying well behind in the conversation. How long had the driver been in Paris, did he have family here, etc. Then it was the driver’s turn to as ask where we are from and how long are we staying?
The United States. Virginia. Not very far from Washington DC. Two weeks. Yes. Oui.
The basics covered, we lapsed into silence.
The basics covered, we lapsed into silence.
Then the driver asked hopefully, do you have an h’oo-BEAR in Virginia? I frowned. I flipped through my French dictionary. h’OO-Bear. h’Oo-bear. I’m thinking about a quarterback. Tom looks at me and shrugs. Then the driver resorted to charades. “I (point) work (motion of driving car) for h’oo-BEAR. Do you have h’oo-BEAR in Virginia?”
Oh! Uber! He drives for Uber! Yes! Oui! We have Uber in Virginia! Nous avons h’oo-BEAR!
Connection made. We found something in common. We talked nearly nonstop the rest of the way. He showed us pictures of Tunisia on his phone - the seacoast with turquoise water and colorful boats, ancient Roman ruins in Carthage. He taught us how to correctly say some French words and we taught him some English pronunciations. We figured out how to make some little jokes and then laugh at them.
Tom asked him if he felt more like a Tunisian or a Frenchman after living in France for 9 years. The driver immediately said, "Both. It is like having a mother and a father. Tunisia is like my father. France is like my mother. I love them both. They are both good to me. No need to choose which is better. They are both better."
We were all smiles when we reached our rental car. It had been a real joy to find a way to connect for a little while with someone so different from us, to share not only a ride but ourselves. To learn from and to teach, give and take, finding a commonality in something as small as the use of the same ride-sharing service. We didn't need to talk about Muslim and Christian or about Arab and Anglo or about politics - none of which we were likely to have in common. We talked about how beautiful the Mediterranean Sea is. How bold those “moto" drivers are whizzing past us on two wheels between lanes. How great it is to love both your mother, your mere, and your father, your pere. How great it is to learn how to say Thank you for teaching us to speak your language. We parted with the words Merci, merci, bon voyage! Have a good trip! Merci!
I like that the French word for thank you is “merci.” Of course I think of mercy. Because as I traveled around, bumbling with the language, needing help all the time with practically everything, it felt so right to say to everyone, Merci. For me it was not just “thank you,” but “thank you for having mercy on me. Thank you for your kindness as I struggle. Thank you for being merciful instead of impatient.”
Jesus almost missed his chance to make a connection with the Canaanite woman. He focused on their differences. She never denied there were differences. She just said, have mercy. That’s all I’m asking. Fortunately, when she showed him their connection, he remembered his mercy and forgot his impatience, and they understood each other. Despite their differences, they chose to connect. He was a Jew and she was a Canaanite and it turned out that there was no need to take sides, to choose which is better. They were both better.