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The Hundred Mile Ride


By Yael Petretti, Compassionate Listening Facilitator and co-leader of the Alabama Journey

 

Last summer I drove my Toyota Prius to Providence, RI, to meet two friends and continue on up Provincetown, MA for a whale-watching excursion. I left my car in Providence but in my haste to get everything into my friend's car, I didn't close the driver's side door completely. When we returned three days later, my large battery was completely dead. I called AAA but since it was a Sunday, they told me that it might be a while before they could find a driver to tow my car all the way back to my garage in MA. I waited.


An hour later, I was extremely relieved to see a AAA tow truck pull up. The driver, a short, very excitable fellow with sandy blond hair jumped out of the cab, waving his arms and shouting that people thought he was stupid. I watched as he flailed and yelled about how much he hated corporations. He had a slight accent which sounded familiar to me. All the while, he worked to get my car onto the tow truck and I asked if I could ride in the car instead of in the cab. "No, not allowed by the stupid corporation!" he yelled. I thought, "This is going to be a very long hundred-mile ride."


So we set off. He was still complaining about corporations and I thought it was probably better not to point out that AAA is a corporation. But I asked him what had happened to upset him so much. He was still shouting: "They make me put my shirt upside down!" He was wearing a red t-shirt which was indeed inside out. I asked him why that was and he fumed, "because it is a Trump shirt!" "Oh," I said, "tell me about it." And he did - for about sixty miles. I just let him go on. Somewhere in there, he said, "and because of that idiot in the White House, I have to pay more taxes!"


"Yes," I said, "paying more taxes is really frustrating, isn't it? Doesn't seem fair." "No!" he said. He was sounding a little more calm by now. "You know?" I said, "the White House and half the Congress are trying very hard to pass laws that will help people like you and me with things like lowering taxes, providing health care, child care and so on - but the other half of Congress, the Republican Party, blocks every single one of these proposed laws."


He was struck speechless. After a moment, he said in a low voice, "You mean I'm mad at the wrong people?" I smiled and said, "Well, I think so." Then he banged the gear shift with the palm of his hand. "It was so fortunate that you came with me today - I never would have thought of that! This was meant to be!" He continued, "But I don't want you to think I am a bad man because I am a Trump supporter!" I reached over and gave his hand a squeeze, "Of course I know you are a good man even if you support Trump!"


So then, he began telling me his story. (We still had about forty miles to go.) He was from Lebanon and his whole family had been massacred by the Syrians when he was eleven years old. He thumped his chest and said, "But I am a Christian!"

He said he had joined the army (at eleven.) I asked if he knew of Bashir Jamayel, the Phalange leader of Lebanon, at which point he nearly drove off the road. "How did you know about Jamayel?? He was my commander!" I told him that I had lived in Israel for many years and that everything that happened in Lebanon was in our daily news.


He was captured by the Syrians and spent two years in one of their prisons. He managed to get away and made his way to the US, where he promptly joined the Marine Corps. (He had the salty language to prove it.) He said that his wife had died a year ago but that he has two daughters and several grandchildren. When I asked if he got to see them much, he said that the grandchildren were now living with him because both of his daughters were nurses who were caring for covid patients.


By now, we were nearing my home garage in MA and I called to leave a message that I would have to replace the battery pack in the Prius. That's very expensive, unfortunately. We pulled into the garage area and he said, "I am not certified to work on electric vehicles but.." thumping his chest again, "I am a MAN and I will try to fix it." (I just love these Middle Eastern men; they are so cute sometimes.) So, I got out of the car and walked around for a few minutes while he did - I really don't know what - and he actually managed to get the car back online. I was stunned! He told me to get in and we would drive around for a few minutes just to make sure everything worked correctly. It did.


He left me there and although I'll probably never see him again, I'll never forget this amazing little fellow who had such a moving story. You just never know - until you listen.



 

Yael’s connection to the civil rights struggle grew out of her participation in the 1968 Poor People’s March on Washington, her life-changing experience of helping build Resurrection City and tutoring children of color whose schools were being desegregated in southern Virginia. Certified as a CL facilitator in 2004, she led and co-led a number of CL delegations to Israel-Palestine where she lived for almost three decades. Yael co-authored “Making Peace with Faith: The Challenges of Religion and Peacebuilding” (Peace and Security in the 21st Century, 2018.) She lives in New England where she facilitates CL trainings and volunteers as an Alternatives to Violence facilitator in a men's high security prison. Witnessing the “new Jim Crow” there has brought her around full-circle to rejoin the struggle for racial/social justice here in the U.S. In January 2020, she initiated and co-led the first domestic Compassionate Listening delegation, “Listening in the Heart of Alabama.” You can visit her website at listeningwiththeheart.org.


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