This is a decidedly non-SL post. Yet, the self-reflection, the parallels cross over, join on.
Have you ever had a moment – in *any* world – where you randomly connect with a person, have a pleasant conversation, and get the sense that – through this person who you fully expect never to see again and who also has absolutely no clear idea of who you fully are – life has just dropped a reminder to you about precisely that: who you fully are. Or if not quite that obviously, then a reminder of the possibilities of what might be. And then just as suddenly, the randomness of the person, the situation and the conversation ends, and you reenter the ebb and flow of the immediacy at hand.
You could say it was very much a subtle and abbreviated rendition of “peeling back the layer to cast a light on the many layers beneathe.” But the one doing the peeling in this instance, of my own layer, was me. I confess, this is something I’m usually much better at feeling than articulating. But while it is difficult for me to describe the sensation, I can describe what happened. In all of its polite non-spectacularity. Yet, somehow, in some way, I definitely got the sense that Life Said Hello…and more than once.
So I’m on a plane, snug in the window seat with my book open and curled back, ready to hunker down for the flight to Maine for an extended weekend with friends. A petite woman very quickly and quietly sits next to me. I like how efficiently this woman sits down in her seat. No fussing. No thrashing around of jackets or carry ons, no jostling and inspecting overhead compartments, no flicking lights and air vents on and off. She’s dressed for comfort, as am I. Jeans, casual shoes (she in sneakers, me in low-heeled ankle boots). And it amused me to see she wore a tshirt that was burnt orange in color, since I happened to be wearing a jacket that was burnt orange in color. Aside from the difference in our heights, we looked as if we had called each other up first thing in the morning to see what we were going to wear.
So she settles smoothly back into her seat, pulls out an apple fritter from a bag, quietly munches and then asks, “So what brings you to Maine?” Before I know it, our topic runs the entire length of the flight and covers everything from politics (she’s a devoted Republican who admits to be experiencing real angst; I’m an Independent, yet we manage to hear each other out), Gen X, Gen Y, value systems, family, to the reasons for our travels and moreso dreams. She’s fascinating. She’s a subcontractor (her own company) with prison systems, focusing on the security designs and layout of mess halls and food/recreation areas. Before that, she was the only woman in an all male company that provided this work. For the last 15 to 20 years of her career, she walked behind the prison walls a good chunk of each work day. This tiny powerhouse of a woman, who – at first glance, even second glance – doesn’t come off as a powerhouse. Walking among the hard core. We all have different and interesting careers and experiences, no doubt. Still, I found Laurie’s (her name, which I didn’t learn until the very end of our conversation) fascinating. What she does, how she thinks just didn’t fit her “first appearance.” Not by any stretch of the imagination. It was a reminder to me of how you just never know…of how we instinctively evaluate each other based on what we see, arrive at some determination and possibly even belief, and then engage with the person indepth and discover how we got some things terribly right, other things terribly wrong, and may have missed other things entirely. And viewing the worlds through “my own eyes,” as we all invariably do, it did beg the question: what might her first impression of me have been…and how right, wrong, inbetween was she? Put another way, how do I say hello to life. How do we all. In any and all worlds.
Hello Life, smiles.
In that moment, the world was on a plane. And the conversation morphed delightfully. From the tangible, logical, practical, to the virtual of dreams, and the boundaryless space where dreams become real. That’s an exciting piece of space. Laurie’s dream, life plan, vision, intent (pick your favorite word or swap in your own) is to create something purely for its aesthetic value and not for its functional capabilities. She dreams of reinventing herself from the soullessness of concrete prison slabs and metal bars to the beauty and life in nature. To do this, Laurie plans to go back to school – Berkeley – when she’s 60 (in 5 years) and study landscape architecture. She plans to earn her bachelor’s. Her second one. She already has one, along with an M.B.A. Does she care that she will be 60? Sitting among 18 year olds? Not one bit. She laughs heartily and visibly delights in the thought. The thunderclap in my brain shook me hard to the realization that Laurie doesn’t put antiquated cultural limits on herself. Hello. A big hello there from Life. First or Second or Third.
Instead of marching to the beat of institutionalized norms, Laurie is one of those remarkable persons who knows herself so very well…the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. She has an incredible degree of self-honesty. That, and the fact that she really likes herself, creates in her a person who doesn’t make excuses for herself. Her fundamental belief, as she shared with me, is that all of us have within us the foundation we need to be able to stand into our own legs. It’s not to say that things are just handed to us because we exist. It is to say that applying our capabilities, applying ourselves from the standpoint of integrity, is the thing. It is to say, for her, that when she is 60 and wants to go back and start all over again, well, smiling, Laurie will do just that. And I have no doubt, she will be just as successful – in whatever manner Laurie will then measure success – and have just as much fun doing it all over again.
When I landed in Maine, I found myself watching the world in a different way. Nature’s honesty there is so all-encompassing, it beautifully fosters the listening. It encourages moments to observe people and interactions underneathe the surface…realizing how wonderfully varied and different we all are and at the same time how we are all so deeply connected by the instinctive desire to blossom, to be, to love, to share, to embrace, to dance, to live…beyond the confines of institutionalized norms and limits that may very well have a purpose, but that shouldn’t necessarily be self-defining. (Ironically, while in Maine, I found a sweatshirt that said “Rules Prohibited.”)
Laurie is a tiny, softspoken smiling, warm woman who happens to work with the prison systems. But that’s not who Laurie is. Laurie is a dreamer who manifests the dream. She was – during that brief chance meeting, and remains – a reminder of the power of life in any world, of the power of honesty, and the power of belief.
A powerful reminder of the gentle yet very real strength in a smiling, tender Hello.