I once visited Istanbul, Turkey, on a cruise. I boarded the last tour bus, which was only half-full. I sat behind the other passengers, so that not only did I have a seat to myself, but an empty seat across from me.
I loved every part of Istanbul. The buildings, the signs, the businesses, the people, the lush greenery between the buildings and on rooftops; it all just thrilled me. I snapped pictures continuously, first from the window next to me and then jumping across the aisle to snap one from the other side. Taking pictures of a traffic jam, I realized there was someone behind me, at the very back of the bus, about twenty years older than I and dressed as one of the crew from the ship. He seemed to immensely enjoy my enjoyment of everything I saw.
When we stopped at the Basilica Cistern, I stepped off the bus and was surrounded by men selling souvenirs. They pressed around me, refusing to let me through. My husband, several feet away bartering a few pennies off the price of postcards, was oblivious to my dilemma. I was starting to panic, when the passenger I’d noticed approached and cleared a path for me.
As I walked through the cistern, my husband off on his own adventures, my fellow traveler approached several times to offer to take my picture in front of the amazing medusa heads, or other sights. I don’t think he spoke English, most of the crew was Greek, and all our communication was nonverbal. Yet I felt so connected to this stranger, as if we were in perfect sync and didn’t need words. He was warm and sincere and seemed to radiate good will and integrity.
That evening, during dinner, I had to return to my cabin for something I’d forgotten. I approached a set of double doors, which swung open, and there was my companion from the tour. I broke into a huge smile, as did he, and I knew my face was as lit up as his was. We ran toward each other and embraced with delight, both obviously overjoyed to see each other. It was as if we were long lost friends or family members. And then, nodding and smiling, we went our separate ways.
I spent that week in Jerusalem, Egypt, Ephesus and Greece; and this was the most moving and memorable experience I had, yet I could never find the words to explain why. The best I can do is to say that it was as if the God in me and the God in him recognized each other. I like to think that while our bodies were a little more reserved, our souls spent the day together, holding hands and laughing. In my encounter with this stranger, I experienced God. And I hope that he experienced at least a little bit of God in me, too.
— Mica Coffin