I picked up my old college poetry anthology book and started flipping through the pages to find some memorable verses I had studied during my school days. My eyes stopped at one that had always given me a mental pause.
“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals. Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown.” – Walt Whitman
In this short statement, Whitman has distilled all of our western ideals and morality. Its economy of words enables this expression of high standards and aims to enter our psyches.
Naturally, it’s the rare person who can fulfill all or even most of these fine actions. In fact, it’s rather difficult to find anyone who even gives much thought to even a few of these ideals. It’s very, very rare to find another person who even cares to sincerely ponder these objectives with oneself and shares in the inquiry with another human being.
What qualifies for serious heart to heart discussion these days may only manifest with one or two of these topics. The usual mundane quibbles about politics, current events, armchair coaching or the weather is as far as conversation goes. This is fine for friendly patter with an acquaintance or coworker, I suppose. It has been this way for centuries and will likely survive well into the future.
I’ve noticed that if I wish to discuss something besides batting statistics, gripes about the heatwaves or to spar with a conservative acquaintance, I must strike up a conversation with a total stranger.
I don’t necessarily mean strangers on the Web. I’ve found some interesting and deep discussion groups here on the Internet. However, any discussions are hampered by the limitations of text and context in emails, discussion boards, chatrooms and instant messaging. If you get past the flame wars, you have to wonder if the other participant will continue his or her visit for any length of time.
There have been times during travel that meaningful, philosphical discussions happened. Many of them have been during the long hours when driving lonesome roads through the hinterlands of the Western U.S. and Canada. My brother and I used to have very deep, meaningful talks during those drives we shared. One or two of my other friends have opened up at those times, too. Once, I picked up my friend Jorge in Denver to join me in a car trip to Edmonton, Alberta on a sightseeing trek through the U.S. and Canadian Rocky Mountains. We enjoyed Mother Nature’s sights along with each other’s insights.
But some of my best times have been with total strangers. Several years ago I was strapped into in a window seat on a Boeing 777 jetliner. My seatmate woke from her nap. We became acquainted. She was a Scottish expatriot who made her home in Minneapolis. Her mother’s funeral in Edinburgh, Scotland was the reason for her journey. I glanced out the window and spotted a very large display of Aurora Borealis. I pointed out the sight to my fellow passenger. It was the first time she’d ever seen the northern lights. I told her she was fortunate to not only see them, but to have the opportunity to view them from an aircraft.
I politely asked about the expat’s profession. She told me that she was a professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. I was hooked. We enjoyed a stimulating conversation about her field work in Andes Mountain villages. She reflected on her feelings about indiginous cultures and man’s inhumanity to man. It was a friendly, meaningful visit. She did most of the talking, and I did most of the learning.
I’m very fortunate to have a friend visit me from out of state from time to time. Jorge, who I’ve mentioned in a few bluejayblog posts, is welcome to crash on my sofa whenever he’s in town. He is one of those very rare guys who loves nothing better than to engage in deep, heavy conversations. He is what I would term an “enhanced existentialist”. He can go on and on about the meanings of life. We’ve been known to skip bedtimes because his visits are so electrifying, powerful and energetic. We not only pour our hearts out to each other, but we become immersed in finding out each other’s deepest wishes for humanity. We are completely on the same wavelength regarding each and every topic I can think of. But instead of just agreeing with a “yeah, man!”, we egg each other on to get at the sweet morsels of each other’s most inner yearnings, with no holds barred.
It only works for us when we’re face to face, mano a mano. Phone conversations don’t quite work. The web, even Skype, is a barrier. We both click during those once or twice per year visits in the flesh. Meantime, we’re left to our own devices.
I live for sharing situations like these. I hope to have more of them with other folks, soon. That’s one purpose of bluejayblog.
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