Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Brother in First Class and the Vietnamese Man on the Bike

I had to fly to Europe for a week for my job. On international flights, the company sends you business class, which is also first class, for commercial flying. There were about sixteen seats in all, out of 200 on the plan, that were in first class. I was in one of the seats and a brother was in another.

I tried to catch his eye, not because I was checking him or wanted to get with him. His response was not unusual. I get it from both men and women of color when I travel. He looked away and around me, as if I were in the way. This seems to happen to me often. So much so, that most times, I don't even try to connect with strangers of color. Isn't that a funny sounding term, 'strangers of color'?

He was a large man, probably stood at about 6'5''. He looked like he could have been a professional athlete. I wouldn't know and couldn't tell you because I didn't talk with him. I was travelling with three other gentleman, so it wasn't like I was desperate for conversation. But I wondered about that young man. I wanted to know who he was, what he was doing and why was he going to Scotland?

Not just because I was nosy, but because I wanted to congratulate him on being successful. He could have been a computer programmer or an entrepreneur. I will never know.

I hate flying so I seem to be in the rest room more than I am in my seat. On one of my 48 trips back from my place of safe haven, the restroom, I looked up and he was looking in my face. I smiled and immediately looked away as I did not want to be disappointed by his not returning my smile or by a lack of acknowledgement from him.

It wasn't like the man was brooding and moody. I was blinded by his pearly whites and giant grin whenever the stewardess walked by. She was cute, ya'll so don't be hating on him.

Fast forward. I buy a lot of my food from an Asian food grocery store in town. There was a gentleman in there buying food. He may have been in his 70's. The first thing that struck me was that the clerk was saying,"You have eleven (11) dollars left. Find something else for eleven (11) dollars." The 70 year old gentleman could barely form a word, let alone a complete sentence in English. His mental faculties were fine. He just didn't speak the English language.

I asked the clerk why did the man need to know he had eleven more dollars and the clerk said that was his [welfare] check from the government and that the gentleman wanted to spend all of the check in its entirety. I asked from where the older gentleman came and was told he was from Vietnam. In the midst of all this, he had lost his walking cane. I tried to catch his eyes to see if I could help, but he just looked past me and around me. I was disappointed because I wanted to help. I wanted to know his story, as well. But of course it didn't happen. He grinned brightly at the store clerk/owner, though. I thought that he had to be pretty courageous to come to this country at his age, without family, without knowing the language. On my way home in my car, I passed the gentleman on his way home, on his bike.

I encountered both gentlemen during a journey, one was long and far, the other short and close. I was unable to communicate with one person due to a social barrier and the other due to a language barrier. These experiences for me are the exception, as opposed to the rule.

Most times, I am able to find or have some kind of active connection or interaction with people. In both of these instances, I was unable to do so. Our connectivity was that I was on the same path, in the same place, at the same time as they, during my respective encounters with them.

I felt just as far apart, just as distant from the gentleman on the plane as I did from the gentleman in the store, for different reasons, but with the same result: no connectivity.

As these two experiences converged, or met, or came together in my mind, I realized that it is a privilege and an honor to connect with another person. More importantly, what may be required to connect with one person may be totally differently than what is required to connect with another person.

So ladies, don't assume and presume like I did, that because someone has some similarities to you- looks like you, eats like you- that the connection should require less effort or no effort or the same effort as it did for the person before.

Instead of being critical or labeling that person in your office, or at your place of business or in your neigborhood as 'typical', ignorant, or strange, try to do something else - first.

Be conscious of the fact that perhaps what it may take to connect or understand from where this person is coming, is something that you may have never called forth from yourself before. Be concious of the fact that you may not possess what it takes to connect with that other person.

Although you are not going to want to connect with every stranger in the street and in the world, I think it is important to keep this at the forefront of our minds. It is quite easy to dismiss or ignore someone. It is a lot harder to pull back, step back and let someone just be - who they are.

So the next time you find yourself in a situation where you hear yourself thinking, "Look at that fool". Or think in an exasperated tone, "What is her problem!?" Be open to the fact that perhaps there truly is no problem, perhaps he is not a fool. Perhaps there is some kind of barrier, be it language, social, cultural or some other kind of barrier, that you can't even put your finger on.

Instead of judging, or labeling, just simply let it be. You see, sometimes in order for water to do its powerful and greatest work, it doesn't need to be dammed up, redirected or harnessed. Water can be at its most powerful for you, when you just stand back and look at it and let it be.

It simply needs to just swirl around your feet and envelope you in its essence. It needs to simply just be left to be. What takes your breath away: harnessed water going over a dam or a glimpse of an open, turquoise sea where the beads of light glisten and gleam upon its waves underneath the shining sun?

The next time you encounter someone who is different or difficult, it just may mean what is required [of you] is to just let him or her be. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you were given that gift in all the interactions that YOU have?

Give to others what you wish to receive. Not because it's tit for tat: I gave you this, so you give me that. But because you can. When you are conscious and cognizant about what you do and who you are, the need to control, harness, redirect, judge or criticize, diminishes.

It may not be meant for you to connect. When one 'connects' with another, it infers that the interaction is pleasant and/or effortless. When one does not connect, the connotation is negative.

Letting something, someone or even a situation 'be', is much harder and requires more of us. That in itself is a skill we all may need to hone.


Start with yourself and, "Just let yourself be."

When you do, that difficult person at work, that weird person in your neighborhood or that fool by the trashcan may cease to be, and transform into something more beautiful than you have ever known, right before your very eyes. That difficult situation my resolve itself. That pain and sadness may just ease and subside.

It's easy to jump quick to judgement. It's so much harder and far more rewarding to let something be, especially when that something is another person, situation or experience different from you or differnt from anything you have ever encountered before. Just stand there and be awed. Sometimes that is far more appropriate than to try to harness and control it. It just may turn out to be the most beautiful thing, person or situation that you have ever experienced.

1 comment:

Jelenia said...

This was awesome. It made me happy to be myself...for I am one of those people that constantly try to connect with strangers that I encounter just because....well, I just like PEOPLE.