Readers of this column may remember that I planned to participate in One Small Step, an offshoot of StoryCorps. I would be having a conversation with a stranger from the Central Valley who was quite different from me but might have some things in common.

My video conversation with this person, described by One Small Step (OSS) as my “partner,” took place on June 5. On June 4 OSS sent me an email explaining who my partner would be, described as a person who grew up a mile from the Taj Mahal, born Hindu and influenced by Sufism.

My conversation with my partner, who lives in Fresno and whose name is Brijesh, was surprising and fascinating. I was, for example, expecting someone born and raised in the Central Valley.

One of the surprising things about Brijesh I discovered during our conversation is that he’s the only person from among the many people from India I’ve known whose favorite pastime is skiing.

What I discovered, more importantly, about Brijesh is that he is a person seemingly quite different from me in geography and religion but actually very similar.

For one thing, as it turns out, Brijesh, like me, is a man in his 70s. For another he believes, like me, that people of very different viewpoints can get along civilly; they can disagree, but given enough time, they can find common ground.

If anyone were to watch my conversation with Brijesh (and perhaps someone will, because it was recorded by OSS and will be archived in the Library of Congress), they would find at the beginning the two of us seemed an odd match, but by the end they would believe, as I do, we are kindred spirits.

I learned in our conversation that Brijesh, after graduating from the St. John’s College in Agra, India, worked as a freelance tour guide and group escort in north India. But in 1980 he moved to, of all places, Switzerland, and in 1999 moved to the United States.

As we talked I became fascinated by Brijesh’s life story, especially how he’s been able to weave three threads of political viewpoints and three threads of spiritual beliefs into one fabric of life.

Brijesh, having lived for several decades each in India, Switzerland and the United States, observed three quite different approaches to politics and government.

More remarkably, having been raised a Hindu, studied Sufism (a mystical form of the Muslem religion) and attended a Christian high school and college, Brijesh was able to weave those three religious perspectives into one, unified spiritual approach to life.

Brijesh’s life story is also quite remarkable, considerably more adventurous than mine. On a whim, it seems, he decided in his 20s that he would leave India and move to Switzerland.

He enjoyed his life in Switzerland, including skiing on the slopes of the Alps. Nevertheless, 19 years after he moved to Switzerland, he decided to move to the United States.

He kept one career thread the same in all three countries, continuing to be a tour guide, and a very accomplished one. He provided tours to many internationally renowned people. One of his most notable tours was for Gilbert Grosvenor, who was President and Chairman of the National Geographic Society. Brijesh was the guide for Grosvenor and his family as they toured the Indian cities of Jaipur and Amber.

Throughout our conversation Brijesh and I seemed to connect. Early on he said I could call him “Bridge,” since many people have a challenge with “Brijesh.” And he seemed as interested in my rather mundane life as I was in his life of adventure.

Eventually we got down to talking about values, something that One Small Step recommends conversation partners do, both political and spiritual values.

Brijesh told me his belief is that people of radically different political perspectives can find common ground, something he experienced in Switzerland. There, he said, there are many different political parties, from far right to far left, but the Swiss have found ways to treat each other civilly, use compromise and build coalitions.

That resonated with me, since I’ve had the same belief this since my days as a college student then on to my later years working as a union member and then a manager. Given time and talk, as I have personally experienced, people from different viewpoints can find common ground.

I also felt connected to Brijesh when we talked about religious beliefs. We both realized that what attracts us most in religion is the “mystical,” which the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines as “a spiritual meaning or reality that is not apparent to the senses” and “an individual’s direct subjective communion with God or ultimate reality.”

The mystical is a part of most religious beliefs–including Hindu, Christian and the Sufi sect of the Muslem religion. Like Brijesh, I have had Hindu and Christian friends and appreciate Sufism, especially having read the writings of another Catholic who was drawn to Sufism, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Like me, Brijesh sees the unity that can be found among the world’s different religions.

Brijesh and I plan to keep connected. He lives in Fresno with his wife, and they travel often to Pacific Grove. We have already established an email correspondence.

I’ve already suggested to Bridge that on  a trip from Fresno to Pacific Grove he and his wife come through Los Banos and have dinner with my wife Sandy and me. We are both looking forward to meeting in person.

As you can see, dear reader, I recommend One Small Step. Anyone interested in having a conversation with a person quite different from them can go to the OSS website and fill out a profile.

There may be a match for you, just as there was one for me. And if you meet and talk with someone as interesting as Brijesh, I think you’ll conclude the experience is illuminating and worthwhile.

John Spevak’s email is