I think that one of the most amazing things about humans is our ability to connect despite having radically different perspectives. In my short time and thus limited experience on this planet, I have found the value in identifying unity in humanity. As I continue to meet people from walks of life much different to my own, I'm finding that sharing similar beliefs and values with people I meet has very little importance. No matter a person's story, there is always a way to see humanity in them and find common ground. We are all human, all make mistakes, and ultimately are just doing what we see as best through our own lens of the world. With that kind of mindset, it is nearly impossible to view another human as anything other than an equal because of that unchanging common trait: humanity.
Finding common ground and relating to people makes it so much easier to understand, appreciate, and even learn from them. That being said, so far in my experience here in Colorado Springs, I have met many people and have been able to see myself in all of them in some shape or form. If I wrote about every person that has had that effect on me, we would be here all day. For today, I will share an abridged version of the story en route to Colorado Springs and the first person I encountered who aided in confirming my perspectives on humanity.
Before I got on the plane, I hoped for the stranger sitting next to me to make it very clear whether or not they wanted to have a conversation. Even with that in mind, I got someone I did not expect. Sweat running down his forehead beneath his ball cap, my new acquaintance spoke intently and purposefully. He was a storyteller and from the moment he introduced himself after taking the last open seat on the plane beside me, he didn't cease to enlighten me with advice and the details of his life. The flight was two and a half hours; I didn't know my attention span could last that long. The frazzled restaurant table salesman was incredibly skilled at condensing his entire life story into a short flight. From his family lineage in firefighting to his experiences with drugs, all the way to a description of every relationship he'd ever been in, the man had a story to tell and a message to get across. Even now, I don't know what that message was, but I know he was worth listening to. He even had a book to show me. I looked at the pictures on each page and he rattled off names and told stories of the fire station in his hometown as if I knew the men in it. I sat there quietly observing his porous face as he spoke and wondered if he talked this much every time he flies for work.
During our conversation, I told him about myself and the adventure I was about to embark on. I realized in that conversation how ridiculous it sounded. Me, an 18-year-old young woman moving across the country, knowing no one where I was headed. It was a frightening and exciting realization. After sitting with my story and drilling me with more questions between sips of Irish Bailey Coffee that he bought with airline coupons, he told me he doesn't often meet people like me and was honored to have sat beside me because I wasn't boring like most of his flight companions. I wasn't sure how to take that, and I chuckled to myself picturing him whipping out the family firefighting book and showing it to various people on other flights. He was eager to share, and I was ready to listen. He may have been a little creepy, and he may have been slightly self-absorbed, but the way I see it, he felt it important to tell me what he knew in hopes that something from his story could be of value to me, and I couldn't help but like him. This man was the first person I met on an adventure that I was taking blindly, and I almost laughed aloud when I thought of this man rich with experience and a hint of creepy being any foreshadowing of the people I would meet in the 11 months awaiting me.
Since my flight into Denver, I've met a lot more people and I must say that my sneaking suspicions about the intriguing souls unknowingly waiting to cross paths with me were true. I find more and more every day that I love to meet new people, particularly those outside of my comfortable circle; there is always something I can take from their experiences, that being merited life advice or, just as often, details that are uncomfortable to hear. I find it most valuable when teaching moments are not intentional but happen on their own. Some of my most valued experiences are just from quietly taking in what other people have to say. Being ready to listen puts me in a place where learning occurs and connections are made. When we are closed off, there is no space to be open for finding common ground and that's when an "us vs. them" mentality can appear. It is always us, together. We are all human and share that humanity, and I think that is beautiful.