Mohammed is arriving in 5 minutes, Uber says.
I’m riding the escalator from the train tracks up to 30th Street Station. Home sweet home, Philadelphia.
Mohammed pulls up in a light blue Toyota and I jump in. “Hannah?” “Yes. Mohammed?” “Yes, hi.”
I compliment his sweatshirt. He compliments my name. He seems about my age, mid 20s. We’re quick friends, laughing already.
Estimated time of arrival, 10 minutes.
He’s asking about where my train came from, what I do for work, how often I go to New York. I ask him how long he’s been driving (only two days — for Uber, but don’t worry, he was driving for Lyft before that), why he likes New York more than Philly, all the typical light questions.
“Where are you from, Hannah?”
I tell him, and casually ask, “What about you?”
The joy runs away from his voice. “I’m from Turkey.”
My heart drops.
Make a right on Market Street.
Turkey. The country that is experiencing such tragedy beyond belief. I’m not sure what to say next.
“What is it like… with your family and friends at home after the earthquake? Are they okay?”
“Oh, you follow the news about the earthquakes?”
“Of course. I’ve been crying a ton. It’s terrible…”
“It hit very close to my family. Honestly, I have no idea how much of my family died. All I know is that my grandmother is still under the rubble. I don’t know what’s going on over there. And it’s killing me.”
Continue for .3 miles.
What can I say? How to comfort a perfect stranger who is going through the unspeakable?
“I am so, so sorry. I can’t even imagine.”
In 500 feet, you will reach your destination.
This tragedy across the ocean, in a country where I do not know a soul, hits me hard. Maybe it’s the magnitude of the death toll. Maybe it’s the fragility of the buildings that seemed to tumble down like dominos. Maybe it’s contemplating the instantaneous way in which a life can cease. Despite my emotions, I have no true reason to feel upset, though my friend Mohammed does.
You have arrived.
I’m slow to gather my parka and backpack, open the door an inch at a time. I’m not sure how to wrap up a conversation that is forced to end against either of our will.
“I want you to know that there are people around the world who are thinking about your family and friends in Turkey, that our hearts are with you, and that we’re praying for the best possible outcome.”
“Wow.” It’s hard to tell if he’s crying, though I can tell he’s touched. “Thank you, Hannah, I really appreciate it.”
I lock eyes with him through the rear view mirror.
“And, Mohammed — I will be praying for your grandmother.”
Please consider joining me in donating to Hatzalah’s mission in Turkey: bit.ly/HatzalahTurkey