Sometimes when traveling across national borders, one finds oneself interacting, or at the very least, temporarily inhabiting a kind of passive co-habitation-by-proximity with people from any number of nations of this green world. Truly, the chance to travel is the chance to expand the borders of “self” as our understanding of the norms of social discourse and attitudes are challenged. There is a divine beauty in the glorious melting pot of standing in awful lines and being forced to pretend like you are listening to the stewardess’s instructions on how to save the lives of the people around you but really you don’t care because you’ve already had a long day.
I had the great pleasure of being seated next to a foreign dignitary of a what I can only assume was a great nation. I imagine he was a foreign dignitary because the way he shouted his demands at the shuffling pawns who worked on the plane implied as much. I assume his nation was also very great, because only one of great status would have the cool confidence to skewer the hearts of small people with such ease. I felt a good and true wave of joy and gratitude wash over me for this chance to learn about another culture.
Because of his high-rank, I felt it inappropriate to speak to him directly, in the same way that we don’t try to carry on a conversation with Beyonce while she is performing. It is rude, and it diminishes us all. Instead, I applied my college education to use inductive reasoning (My parents’ money well-spent, I assure you!) to parse out small gems and jewels of understanding, the true treasure of this world.
How fascinating that where he comes from, they have a custom of not really giving a shit about using the arm rest, so they just kind of full-on rest part of their large arm on your leg if they want to. I think this really speaks to a level of depth in understanding the intrinsic nature of “inter-being”, as some faiths might refer to it. Such advanced understanding allows him to see that my leg is really just an extension of his body and vice versa.
He was obviously from a culture that places great value on kindness and compassion, because by jabbing his elbow expertly all over my arm rest, he was able to turn on the TV in front of me, and even help me determine what I should watch, and for how long. Without this generous dimension of his personage, might I have lived the rest of my life, never knowing that synchronized swimming “duets” were an Olympic event, and one worth watching? The richness of his people makes kings of us all, truly.
Another way that I was really wowed by his physicality was his practice of what I assume was an invocation of some divine spirits through movement. I guess some people might call it by another name, but he had a curious practice of supporting his right leg on his toes, and then “jittering” his leg incredibly quickly. He often pushed his leg against mine, again, a clear indication that we were spiritually linked. Brothers, even.
Unfortunately, as is the transient nature of travel, our time together was bound by the constraints of distance of our flight. A mere 9 hours together from Rwanda to Amsterdam was all we had. I felt he had so much to offer me, and I wondered if he felt the same. Was he curious of my choice to abstain from the airline’s food, given their lack of vegetarian option? Did he study the intricacies the customs of my people, such as stretching into the aisle to allow passing carts to bludgeon my body? No, I’m sure he had long since traveled the depth and breadth of our meager world, and had seen our myriad ways.
Dear sir: I will long hold the sound of your slurping ginger ale in my heart. May it echo for a lifetime. May your abject refusal to put your tray-table in the upright-and-locked position embolden the other citizens of this planet to know and follow the heart that dwells within them. I thank you, I thank you, I thank you.