n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.
I enjoy talking to people, strangers especially, because most of the time, they are very unpretentious and do let down their guard down so easily. I find that I meet the most interesting people though in different locales, at airports and especially on flights. I have a special fondness for people I meet at airports, because tangled in their travels are deep webs of stories and when I have stopped long enough to listen, I often find that everyone has a story to tell. A friend of mine recently made the observation that I always meet so many interesting people and I realized that she wasn't far off from the truth.
Earlier in the month, I planned a trip from Houston to Atlanta as I had a scheduled race in Atlanta on July 4. I got to the airport at about 8am, and what began as a series of delays eventually turned into a cancellation by the airline. The airline provided little to no information following the cancellation, besides telling customers the only options were to either receive full refunds or be booked for another flight. The next flight out was on the day of my race and was scheduled to depart at noon. Rescheduling just was not an option for me because the plane was scheduled to land hours after the end of the race.
In spite of having endured multiple cancellations, standing and sitting in awkward positions by power outlets to charge my phone I remained so calm and used the opportunity to meet and talk to people. I met a lady who was departing for Atlanta on another airline to attend the 80th Anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was holding in Atlanta that weekend. I met a young lady who was flying into Atlanta with plans of visiting her boyfriend in Columbus who offered to give me a ride to Austin to get on another flight to Atlanta to make it in time for my race. Then there was the guy who was scheduled for dialysis treatment who banded up with several others to rent a bus and drive through the night to Atlanta. Then there was the woman with the son who reminded me of my nephew whom I helped with rescheduling her flight, an ordeal that lasted over an hour.
However, of all the people that crossed my path at the airport that day, none made as strong an impression as the man in the trucker hat. After retrieving my luggage and purchasing a new flight ticket on another airline, because I had to be in Atlanta and wasn't going to miss my race for the world, I looked for a place to sit in a coffee shop as I had been at the airport for almost twelve hours at this point. There were two men occupying the chairs positioned in the direction of arrivals and one was gracious enough to offer me his. As I settled into my chair, I read the writing on the hat of the middle-aged man that was still in his chair out loud. His hat had a scripture from the book of Proverbs, the third chapter and the fifth verse. The inscription on his hat simply read, "Trust God, and don't worry."
I mouthed the words out loud and told him I liked his hat as I sat next to him. At once we picked up a conversation. I told him about my cancelled flight and how I was in very high spirits because I had met so many people and had so many enriching conversations. I brought the conversation back to his hat and shared how my faith has always served as an anchor and helped me through so many challenges. He then opened up about how he expected to have his life figured out at his age and how oftentimes, he just wished God would give him a glimpse into his future so his mind would be at ease. He was a widower, having lost his wife of over thirty years three years ago and was at the airport to meet a lady he recently began talking to. He told me his intentions for her were good and he was going to let her have his bedroom while he slept on the couch while she was visiting. At the end of the day, he hoped their relationship would blossom into marriage but was also fine if it didn't. He shared about how deeply lonely he was as a widower and an empty nester and how he never knew such loneliness could exist.
In all, although it was clear his heart was heavy, he was still quite upbeat. There was a desire to want to know what was to come, but yet, a childlike trust in God and a willingess to follow as God led. As we sat there and talked for minutes, he felt like an old friend and we talked and laughed and shared stories mostly centered on our respective walks with God. I had to leave mid conversation to go back home and I always wonder about that man at the airport. His loss, his heartbreak and his resolve. He chose to see the cup as half full and I shared that same reslove with him. Had I let my long stay and disappointment over my flight cancellation get in the way, I might have missed that moment to share conversation with him. He was such a sweet man.
These stories at the airport always get me, and the people there get me too. On another flight ealier in the year from Chicago, I met a young lady, who had just recently quit her job to care for her dad who was battling cancer at MD Anderson. We talked the entire length of the flight and have kept in touch ever since. Or the women I met on the flight from Houston, one of whom was a marathon runner and wants to run a race with me some time in the year or the man I met on a flight to Mexico a few months ago who was silent the entire trip but gave me his number as soon as we landed and asked me to come out for a drink.
Whenever I fly, I'm reminded that the world is so vast. Maybe it's just the sheer number of people boarding flights for different reasons --weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals, court cases, illnesses, honeymoons, job functions or just moving away to start life all over again-- or maybe it's the stories behind the faces. From the ticketing counter to the security line and the gate, these faces all have stories and I'm reminded that the world is a very big yet surprisingly small playground and the way to win is to choose and keep choosing to see the glass as half full.