I try to read. I want to read so badly. I wait for opportunities like this to read for hours at a time. The book I picked is one I’ve tried to read for years—A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—and it seems to set the right mood for my flight to New York. Except right now, it just isn’t happening. There is too much going on around me for me to try to focus on this book.
The girl to my left is talking on the phone. Not loudly, but she is speaking French. That grabs my attention. Of course, I don’t know anything that she is saying; I speak Spanish, but it is intriguing nonetheless. The guy to my right is listening to music. He has on his suit and tie and his well-shined dress shoes. He’s definitely a New Yorker. I wonder what he is listening to. I imagine he is at least 40. What would a 40-year-old listen to? Billy Joel. Yeah. Billy Joel. I think I’ll join him. Granted, I only have one Billy Joel song, but the one I have seems fitting for the moment: “New York State of Mind.” Perfect.
The lady sitting in front of me seems to be grading papers. She has a red file folder full of loose-leaf papers along with her black-rimmed reading glasses and navy-blue jumpsuit that she threw on right after school. I’ll bet she is a high school English teacher. I secretly want to go have a conversation with her about books, teaching, curly hair and cool shoes. However, there are two things wrong with this secret desire: 1) I don’t know for sure that she is an English teacher and 2) there seems to be this unspoken rule in the North that you don’t just talk to random people. Since I am waiting for a plane to New York, I assume it goes for this time as well.
One of the most exciting aspects of traveling is the people around me. Everyone has something cool to say. Somewhere inspiring that they came from. Stories about children and grandchildren, husbands and ex-husbands, dogs and cats, favorite places visited and places they want to visit. There is always something to talk about. Always something to learn. Something to discuss. So why the self-containment? Why the lack of eye contact? Why the overuse of electronic devices? Why three seats between each person?
It seems as though we are scared to associate with that which is outside of us. Everyone seems to be so guarded these days. Not just northerners, but everyone. Picture this situation: I am standing in line at the bank waiting to deposit the money that my Grandma Maye gave me for my birthday. The older gentleman, 65 let’s say, in front of me turns around and says, “Nice day today.” My response: “It sure is.” Awkward! I think to myself. So I go back to counting the floor tiles. Guarded. Nothing more becomes of the conversation because I don’t allow it to go anywhere. I mean, really, I’m never going to see this person again. Why bother?
Wrong. As human beings, we crave interaction with other people. When was the last time you had a random conversation with someone knowing full well that you would never see them again? How did you feel when you walked away? Excited? Enlightened? Elated? Fulfilled? I always seem to walk away with an overwhelming sense of fulfillment. In fact, my adrenaline is pumping. If this is what we desire so much, then why do we refuse ourselves this privilege? Why do we choose to ignore the person beside us and put in our iPod ear buds? Why not talk? Why not ask questions?
When we stop asking, “What am I going to get out of this conversation?” and start asking, “What can I learn about this person beside me?” then our soul will have the freedom to mingle. A mingled soul is a fulfilled soul because it is at that point that we are more aware than ever of what is taking place around us rather than inside us.
Next time you board an airplane, and the seat beside you is occupied, allow your soul the chance to mingle rather than to sit dormant. You will never view people the same again. You will never view the world around you the same again. Because, you see, whether you understand it or not, the person beside you is as much a part of your world as you are. Why not interact with them?