Stranger Danger? No more…
I’m sitting in the Dallas Fort Worth airport, delayed for 3 hours, but I don’t mind. I enjoy being stuck in airports. It feels like time stops. You have limited access to internet and electricity (so you can’t be expected to get too much work done), a huge indoor space to roam, and thousands of co-travellers from all walks of life. But, as much as I love being stranded in this enormous human zoo, something isn’t quite right. Actually, I’m a little pissed off. Let’s backtrack a tad and figure out why.
My pissed-off-ed-ness all started this morning, when I had to be at the airport at 6:30 am. This means I haven’t slept in about 16 hours (bad life choice, that’s on me). Also, because all I had was a suitcase of dirty clothes, I’m wearing an old High School Musical t-shirt – an ironic purchase that now seems idiotic. On top of that, I just sprinted across a terminal to catch a shuttle to another terminal, only to arrive breathless and sweating for a plane that had already departed. After arguing with a ticket agent to try to rebook my flight (in previously mentioned High School Musical t-shirt) and going through the security checkpoint for a 3rd time in 6 hours, I found an isolated corner seat, took out my laptop, and began brainstorming ideas for this post. Which brings me to my current state: pissed. Thankfully, however, it isn’t long before one of the most essential airport truths pervades my ire:
Essential Airport Truth: Perfect strangers, when travelling, often forge meaningful relationships, made all the more powerful by their brevity.
How did I come to this re-realization? I’ll tell you. I was sitting here, pissed, typing some half-hearted blog post about New Year’s resolutions, when an airport stranger pulled me into a wonderful conversation about his grandchildren and shared a brisket sandwich with me; this made me feel a little better. After he boarded his flight, I kept my laptop shut and continued to people watch and stay present. I met a little girl, with a big smile stuck on her face, sprinting back and forth from her mom and the Pepsi machine. She told me the trick to not falling when you run is to run fast (duh!); this made me feel even better. Little by little, making tiny connections with strangers, I drew strength from the people around me. And, pulling my laptop out once again, thinking of all the strangers that would be reading my words, I was reminded how important it is to connect with others. I was reminded of why that word connection is such an integral part of Rooted’s mission. And I was reminded how rewarding it can be to talk to strangers. In my travels to date, via plane, train, bus, boat, and rented van, I have sat next to and connected with:
- a professional soccer player living his dream
- a terminal cancer patient facing death
- a single father fighting for custody of his children
- a courtroom lawyer who wished they’d become a painter
- a fearless teenager leaving his home town for the first time
- a high school dropout who wished everyday she was back at Woodstock
- a professional dancer who had an affair with a priest
Conversations with each of these people left me in a surreal, otherworldly state. I learned something from each of them – from their experiences, their peculiar sayings, the boldness with which they shared intimate details of their life – but more than that, I was witness to the sacred inner monologue that most people think but never say. Considering the different masks we wear in our day-to-day lives, it is quite possible that we are the freest versions of ourselves around people we will never see again. I’m always happy to partake in this ‘stranger communion’, as both a listener and a sharer. It confirms that all people need a release, at some point or another. This is, of course, part of the what Rooted does; it provides a safe, private space for personal and creative release, in a room full of strangers. Having grown up with the age-old children’s warning, “don’t talk to strangers”, it seems to me that this type of release is all the more rare in this day and age. There is an undeniable wall between strangers, in this country at least, that keeps people from connecting, or even acknowledging each other. Bombarded with smartphone technology, this childhood warning, and the energy-draining “grind” that has become routine for so many, people seldom choose to leave their comfort zone in the interest of new connection. Unless they’re in an airport. Or possibly at Rooted. Where the rules of the day-to-day world no longer apply. Where time seems to stop. But what of the kindly stranger and brisket sandwich that started this whole train of airport thoughts? I wonder, did he see my anger and decide to cheer me up? Was he, on some deeper level, yearning to connect with another human being? Was he simply drawn to the High School Musical t-shirt I was wearing? I don’t know. Perhaps it was a combination of all three. Regardless – if you’re out there Brisket Sandwich Stranger – I thank you. For cheering me up, for giving me something to write about, and for making me feel the power of human connection once again.