Tuesday, May 3, 2011
The pleasure of your company
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.