Thursday, April 20, 2006

Seeing through here to heaven

I had this morning a glimpse of heaven.

I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC. And though I’ve lived in Denver for as long, at this point, as I lived in DC, childhood memories seem to have a way of setting baselines that later experience sometimes does not. So Spring, for me, is defined by things I no longer see during the months of March, April, and May – azaleas, dogwood blossoms, the fall-reminding colors of newly emerging hardwood foliage.

The morning started with an automated wake-up call from the hotel’s computer, telling me that it was 5:30 (3:30 to my time-zone-unadjusted brain). I managed to get myself showered, checked out, and into a cab headed for the airport by 6:30 – dawn. I looked out the window and thought, “It’s Spring.” I’d spent every moment yesterday from the time I arrived to the late hour I made it to my hotel bed in meetings in conference rooms or restaurants. So I savored the dawn-lit moments of the drive from the hotel back to the airport, past banks of azaleas, tulips, redbuds, and the thousand shapes of new leaves, dogwoods blooming, wisteria vines trailing lavender clusters up into the tops of the trees.

But interrupting my Garden of Eden from a cab’s window was an incessantly chatting cab driver.

Looking out the window, I “yes”ed and “no”ed enough to keep up my almost-irrelevant side of the conversation. But as we drove, the flood of Eritrean-accented English began to penetrate my brain. The driver emigrated from Eritrea, via Sudan, twenty years ago. His oldest daughter, 22, is finishing college at George Mason University and about to begin medical school. His second daughter, 19, is a freshman, also at George Mason University. He recounted tales of being pressed into the Eritrean military, ultimately fleeing with his wife and some family members when conditions became unbearable. He told me the “usual” story of third-world life: no justice system to speak of, no economic opportunity, the grinding, the life-and-mind-destroying conditions of poverty. They hid in the jungle during the day, traveling toward the Sudanese border at night. A brother who had already come to the United States sponsored them, via the embassy in the Sudan. He told me of his father’s visits to the U.S., that his father reported this: that of all the people he’s known who have died, none have come back from heaven, so for him, at least, heaven is a belief. But what he sees in the U.S. – that is heaven: the opportunity to work and earn a living; education for children; almost no public corruption and when it does happen, it’s prosecuted; no racial discrimination (relax, this is his report, not mine). That, for him, was and is heaven.

By profession, I’m a lawyer. By training, I’m an antitrust lawyer – a lawyer who works at the intersection of law, competition, business, and society. It’s a lot of economics, a reasonable amount of law, and a lot of inquiry into the hyperactively technical and minute details of how competition works.

This morning’s talk with my Eritrean cab driver reminded me of this:

Heaven is a place of justice and free markets.