Monday, December 9

Making friends and touching lives 30,000 feet in the sky


Monday, April 29, 1996

Open yourself up to new and random people and experiencesRod
owns a house by a creek in Modesto, California. He is tall, tan,
30-something, unhappily divorced but happily enjoying a bachelor’s
life of fishing, hunting and competition shooting. He owns
something like 15 guns. The brown hair under his hat shows a few
silver streaks, and dirt collects under his finger nails and in the
creases of his hands. He has a teen-age daughter who is not in the
least bit interested in college. When he isn’t at play, Rod works
for his own construction company. Recently, he had a contract to
build several beauty shops, but his client up and died.

I met Rod when he was on his way home from a cruise to
Enseñada with his ex-girlfriend and her two children. They
were trying to patch things up, but you know how it is, Rod said.
He can just tell it’s not going to work out. (But they had "a real
nice time." A cruise isn’t his type of thing ­ he prefers
hunting trips ­ but they had a real nice time.) I was flying
to Oakland, and Rod and I happened to sit next to each other on the
plane. The plane sat still on the runway for about 30 minutes
before we took off, but once Rod and I got to talking, I hardly
noticed the delay.

Previously, we had exchanged glances and a few words, but I was
set on reading my book during the next two hours. I really wanted
to read, but something came over me. As I concentrated on the page
before me, I thought about how this was the only chance I’d ever
have to meet this particular person. I felt he was willing to
engage in conversation, but my demeanor wasn’t encouraging him.
Earlier, I’d given him one-word answers and gone back to my
novel.

Now, I found it difficult to concentrate because there was a
potential random experience sitting next to me. I wasn’t sure how
to enter back into the conversation I had curtailed. My gosh, could
I possibly ask him a question? I tried to say something, tried to
re-break the ice: "We’ve been sitting here for a long time" ­
but it came out so quiet, he didn’t hear me!

Here we were, sharing an arm rest, sharing a 30-minute wait on
the runway, sharing the same awkward human nervousness, and we were
silent. It was absurd. I couldn’t pretend he wasn’t there anymore.
I hadn’t turned a single page in my book, but stared at it while I
contemplated my urge to give in to the curiosity and intrigue of
the situation. It was impossible to read. I closed the book.

I knew I’d never see him again; I knew there was no special
interest or purpose to talk to him. So what’s the use? Well, Karol
Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) writes that people aren’t meant to be
used so much as loved. Each of us carries the dignity of
personhood, and each of us deserves respect and love on that merit
alone.

Rod told me so much about himself, and I loved it. I enjoyed the
whole experience of sitting there listening to this man comfortably
and freely share his mind ­ not because I related to his
lifestyle, but because I related to him on a more important and
universal level ­ our humanness. We’re all suffering or
celebrating; we’re all struggling to make a living; we’re all
connected in this, our existence.

With each person comes a potential learning experience, someone
to know for the sake of knowing. When else will I have the chance
to know a deer-hunting, salmon-fishing, rifle-shooting rustic from
Modesto? I surround myself with people like me, but there is more
out in the world to learn and to share than my limited environment.
People who can touch my life if I just let them. Likewise, I might
touch theirs if I can learn to reach out.

So why is it so difficult to initiate a simple conversation with
another person? I don’t know. We seem to fear rejection, when
really what it’s all about is acceptance. I’ve found that many
people are ready to open up, but they’re waiting to be invited.
Once upon a time, I was one of those shy people. I was a new
student in high school, and someone reached out to me. We’re best
friends now, and my life has never been the same for knowing
her.

Of course, there are so many people to meet who will not be your
best friend, but who are nice to know, even if you only know them
for 10 minutes. It’s a shame to let someone pass through your life
without seizing the chance to know and love that person. It’s worth
"wasting time" to talk. You can sit there and ignore the person or
reach out … and be happy the rest of the day for doing so. Here
you are, right next to someone for a limited period of time. You
never know if he is a guardian angel in disguise, someone who will
open your eyes to a whole new perspective on life. You never know
if you were meant to be one of those angels to someone else.

Sometimes I think about Rod, up there shooting in Modesto,
applying for his hunting license, encouraging his daughter to aim
high, building beauty shops. I wonder about Rod, because for a
couple of hours, he touched my life. It was like opening a new
novel and acquainting myself with a character whose relationship to
me is limited to the story contained between the front and back
covers.

I know a lonely man up in Modesto whom I may never see again,
but he’s there, living his life. And for what it’s worth, he’s not
so alone, because I think about him. He’s got a friend in Los
Angeles. A friend who has absolutely nothing in common with him
except that we’re both in this thing called life, together. A
friend he’ll probably never meet again. But who knows … we just
might. What are the chances?

Rich is a third-year English/American studies student and
assistant viewpoint editor of the Daily Bruin. Her column appears
on alternate Mondays.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.