Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The pleasure of your company

Lately I've been deriving particular pleasure from the company of others. Not that I'm normally a misanthrope, but...I do tend to spend a lot of time alone. But for the last few weeks, people - even random strangers with whom I have just a brief encounter - are feeling like gifts to me.

During my 6am SuperShuttle ride to the Minneapolis St. Paul airport, my only other shuttle companion began talking, and talking, and talking, telling me all about her job as an event planner, then about her son's upcoming wedding, about the bride, about the bride's family, about where the wedding will be, where the bachelorette party will be, where the reception will be, who will be catering the reception, the distance from the caterer's to her house...and instead of feeling trapped and resentful, I found myself feeling quite fond of this total stranger who'd popped into my life, and curious about what lesson or experience she might teach me.

Then on my flight I sat next to a large man whose cell phone rang ("Telephone" by Lady Gaga) as we were taxiing for take-off. Normally, between his sprawling into my personal space and the fact that he couldn't even be bothered to turn off his cell phone, I'd retreat to my corner and think grumpy, spiteful thoughts about him for the rest of the flight.

Instead, we began talking. Turns out was going home to Hyderabad, India, after being away for two years. He missed his family, he missed the food and the climate, he could not wait, could not WAIT to get back. We talked about temples and forts and trains, which cities to visit and which to avoid, all the types of mangoes that grow in India, how his very favorite meal of all is chicken biryani. We talked about all the places he'd visited in the U.S. (quite a good list) and how he adored getting in the car and just driving and driving and driving. He may have been homesick for India, but he wasn't letting that stop him from having a grand adventure while he was here.

Despite his bad head cold, which forced him to repeatedly excuse himself to cough into the collar of his jacket, he couldn't stop talking about home. The more he talked, the more excited he got - and the less I understood what he was saying. I asked him about the death of Sai Baba and he told me how baffled he was that any human being should claim to be god. From there, I really couldn't quite hear the words so I just smiled and nodded, figuring what the heck. The plane landed, I wished him luck, and off he went to get a glass of brandy before his 14-hour flight to India.

Such encounters make me feel a little bit better about the world as a whole. There's a lot to feel disheartened about. I see many people - mostly in the public eye - behaving in a way devoid of compassion or empathy and driven primarily by personal greed.

But the world is also populated with people like the ones I've just met, people who are going about their daily lives, holding open doors and saying "thank you," celebrating what (and whom) they love, and trying to make sense of what they don't understand. The small-town Minnesotan event planner and the uprooted Indian IT worker, the Ethiopian shuttle driver who refused to believe his GPS ("Shut up!" he kept telling it as we passed our turn), the smiling hotel clerk who didn't know what or where Maine was, or even me, the traveling yarn minstrel. We may be small ants, but together we make a beautiful hill.


Cathy said...

I love you Clara!

akabinin said...

Me too, pookie.

I've been thrust back into people what with the new job and all, and it's been - surprise! shock! horror! - energizing and a pure, unmitigated joy.

I think the yarny goodness we spread around helps, frankly.

I had the great good pleasure to speak in glowing terms of both your book and J.C.'s this week, in various classes. And that's another thing that makes me feel, well, swell.

Lorilee said...

I learned that everyone is worth getting to know if only you spend enough time in conversation together to prove it out, with very few exceptions.

Sadly, I didn't learn this until I was forty.

Dirty Water DyeWorks said...

What a lovely commentary! Even when times are dark, there is hope in humanity. Ants make the world go 'round.

Donna said...

Honestly, I think this might say as much about you being open to them as it does about them being interesting people with stories to tell. If we walk around closed off and resentful of others' intrusions, everyone is an impediment to us; if we wait and see what happens, it could be better.

I am not always this well-adjusted.

Adrienne Martini said...

Where's the "like" button?

Debbi said...

So well said, Clara. It has reminded me to stop each day and think about the people I have encountered and to see what I have learned. Thanks for the perspective!

Seanna Lea said...

Beautiful. It is so easy to walk around, closing oneself off from everything. It is a good reminder that more joy and happiness and life happens when we are open.

Cat Bordhi said...

Beautiful words, Clara, and I wholeheartedly concur. I meet the most wondrous people while traveling...and also love observing strangers being kind and dear to other strangers in tiny small things, like reaching for someone's luggage on the carousel to bring it within their reach, simply smiling warmly at someone, all those tiny things that matter such a great deal and actually alter the quality of someone's whole day. And funny, in the airport I bought a book called "Anthill" by E.O. Wilson because it promised to be about the kindness of small things.

Amy McWeasel said...

"We may be small ants, but together we make a beautiful hill."

Such a lovely sentiment, and so true.

Liz said...

There is nothing more heartwarming than to connect with another person, no matter how briefly. It reminds us that we are all related. Thanks for that beautiful post!

Renee said...

Lady, you have a way with words (and with wool). Beautiful post. Being open for those encounters, enriches your life. You said it. And you are so right.