In many ways, America offers people chances to connect with another culture. If you're very lucky, you can become friends with people who have a completely different background than you have.
My friend, Rachel (I'm using a different name to protect her privacy) is a very religious Persian Jew. She immigrated to America and then her husband died. She brought up three children on her own and they all have college degrees.
I'm a Christian who is descended from two Mayflower pilgrims. I have a daughter whose grandparents were in the Holocaust. My wife and stepdaughter are both Chinese and in medicine. My father died when I was seven, and there were many days I would have traded being a Mayflower descendent for more food.
Because I'm disabled, Rachel's barbershop is halfway in a five block walk. Yesterday, we were talking about Yom Kippur and she talked about how it was important not to complain too often to God. I wrote out my cell and home numbers and then wrote "rich, friend " I told her to call me any time she wanted so she could complain to me. I didn't tell her how many times I've complained to God, or his son.
We talked about values and how America has changed. I told her how every time I gave a test at the University the statistics told me 70% of these students had already cheated in college. She talked about how hard it is to trust people, these days.
In these conversations we haven't managed to solve the world's problems. However, I do come away refreshed and feeling warmer. These contacts, especially in a brutal place like West Los Angeles, are really hard to find. And it's really hard to find someone with a pure heart like Rachel.