“Heyyyy! I thought that was you!”
I didn’t recognize the man who had appeared out of nowhere beside our table.
“How’s that arm?” He touched my shoulder. “Your dad was so worried about you—and not just about your arm, about your life! How long ago was that, anyway? . . . And how ’bout Hong Kong? Your dad told me you were over there. What were you doing there? Bet ol’ Placerville feels small now! I’ve never been to Asia. Born and raised in SoCal; moved up here and never left. Did a rotation in Dublin once, though. One of the best times of my life. What ya doin’ in ol’ Placerville?”
I wondered, briefly, how the man breathed. His lips hardly seemed to keep up with his mouth.
We had finished eating and were standing up to leave. The man’s family was at a table nearby.
“Hey guys! Look who I found! . . . This here is Steve and his daughter, Jessica, and—I’m sorry, what did you say your name was, son?”
“Nick,” said my friend.
“And Nick!” the man beamed. “Jessica was in Hong Kong last year. She was a teacher—right?” I nodded. “Hong Kong, can you believe that? Such a world traveler. Hong Kong! Wowww.”
Hong Kong. Wowww. A few years ago, that would have been my reaction, too. Hong Kong? If you’d asked me, I couldn’t have found it on a map. The same was true for Taiwan.
How much I’ve learned about the world in just a few short years.
How much more there is to learn.
That, I think, has been the hardest thing to explain: How much there is to learn. Or, perhaps more importantly, why it’s important that we learn.
Here in the States we live in a world wrapped in self. We lead busy lives and can hardly stop to consider someone else. In a country with one of the highest standards of living, where people sleep in soft beds and drive fancy cars, the images we see on TV—images of starvation and inadequate housing—hardly seem real.
But it’s more than that, too. Even if all the world’s economies were the same, would everyone everywhere lead similar lives? Of course not! Cultural differences abound and are a huge part of who we are. Perhaps you imagine your life will never be touched by people far away. But consider this: When was the last time you saw someone from a different ethnic background? Did you wonder about their lives? Would knowing about their culture improve your understanding of who they are and your interactions with them?
There’s a scene in the book “Life of Pi.” Pi has just arrived in Canada and is eating with his fingers at an Indian restaurant (underlining my own):
“The waiter looked at me critically and said, ‘Fresh off the boat, are you?’ I blanched. My fingers, which a second before had been taste buds savouring the food a little ahead of my mouth, became dirty under his gaze. They froze like criminals caught in the act. I didn’t dare lick them. I wiped them guiltily on my napkin. He had no idea how deeply those words wounded me. They were like nails being driven into my flesh. I picked up the knife and fork. I had hardly ever used such instruments. My hands trembled. My sambar lost its taste.”
We are not islands. This world and its people may be deep and vast and varied, but we are all connected. And that, my friends, is what makes this life so beautiful.
Is An Island
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” — Mark Twain
Island image credit: Tourism Fiji
- how to not die: the fall (jesscy.com)
- wider, richer, deeper (jesscy.com)
- Hong Kong’s cubicle apartments: could you live like this? (guardian.co.uk)