Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Journeying to the Future: We Return Home and Learn as We Travel

On our flight back home Monday, Steve and I had the great good fortune to be seated beside a young man who was an interesting conversationalist, and who had incisive things to say about all sorts of topics.  I’m not frequently around 14-year olds, so I don’t know if what our flight companion said is typical of his generation or not.

But because his insights were so sharp and so freshly stated, I decided to write them down as he talked.  I do not want to exploit this young man in reporting his comments on a blog, and so I will avoid recording some things he told us that provide specific information about where he lives, and about his identity. 

What follows are verbatim transcripts of some of the things our traveling companion said, as we flew with him earlier this week.  Steve sat beside him in the middle seat.  He was by the window—his choice—and I occupied the aisle seat. 
Before the flight got underway:

Excuse me.  I have to call my grandfather.  I need to see how he’s doing.  We must respect our elders.  And especially those in service.  And especially our elders who have been in service.

And then a short conversation in Spanish, which Steve (whose Spanish is better than mine) may have understood, but which I didn’t.   It was impossible not to hear, because the young man’s voice was, like many California voices, an unmodulated and carrying voice.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but his grandfather was actually on the same plane, in first class.  The youngster later told us that his father had bought tickets for his parents to take a trip to Europe, and to take their grandson along.  The grandparents—beautiful people, beautiful as if surrounded by radiant auras as they walked down the aisle, open faces, eyes full of light—both came at various points to check on their grandson as we flew east.
The grandson clearly gets his volubility and openness to strangers from his grandmother.  She was all of five feet tall, and when she came to check on her grandson, she pressed herself right into the row, her cheek next to mine, while she told him to be sure and drink plenty of liquids, handing him a bottle of water and a carton of milk.

And then she said, in a wonderful hill-country Arkansas accent, though she lives in California and has lived in Italy and other places in Europe with her Spanish-speaking professor husband (all of which the grandson told us),

They give this stuff out like candy in first class.  Arkansas you say?  My daddy went to the University of Arkansas.  Fine school.  Don’t let him talk your ears off (beaming at her grandson). 

Then the grandson again, after his grandmother had left:

This flight is 4 ½ hours long.  I’ve played video games that long.  I can stand it.

And when a song to which I paid no attention came over the loudspeaker:

Elvis Presley!  I like Elvis Presley.  I read his biography.  It took me two years.  I read 50 pages a day.  I was 10.

And later:

You do know we’re all African American, right?  I saw that on t.v.  And so I said to myself, “You’re African American.”  My skin color doesn’t show that.  And I’m Mexican and Irish, and where I come from is not Africa.   But I have African roots.

Then when Steve bought him a headset to watch the in-flight movie and listen to music:

This is really sweet.  Thank you.  I can’t get some songs out of my head.  Especially one called “Find My Love.”

Towards the end of the flight:

I’m a son without a mother.  My parents didn’t get along when I was born.  All my life I’ve wanted to travel.  I’m glad my father bought this trip for me.  He usually doesn’t tell me, but he does care for me.  He wants me to have a better life than he did.  He wants me to go to college.

Tears when he said this.  Mine.  Tears again as I type it.  It is a terrible thing for a child to feel unwanted by his mother.  I am sure this bright young man carries far more tears in his own heart, even as he calmly tells strangers that his mother left him when he was born.  Thank God for those precious grandparents who have so obviously helped this young man know that he is valued and loved.  And for a father who works hard, his son told us, and has sent his parents and son on a trip this summer.

And finally, shortly before we landed:

So all in all, you have to enjoy your life while you can.  You never know when you’ll be facing a tunnel and see the light at the end of it.  Not to enjoy life is a waste.  It’s a waste of God’s embrace.  God’s plan is for us to enjoy the life he gives us.  And then He knows He’ll see us all at the end.

It was a magnificent gift to sit beside this young man and to hear these words, which I wrote down, fittingly, it seems to me, on the back pages of Jamaica Kincaid’s Bildungsroman entitled Annie John, describing in novelistic fashion her experiences growing up in Antigua. 
If this young traveler and young Will Phillips, whom  I mentioned in a posting yesterday, are in any way representative of the generation now coming to maturity, the world had better buckle up and hang on for dear life.  These youngsters show tremendous promise, and they’re not afraid to say what they think and to stand up for principles.

The future, with them at the wheel, is going to be quite a ride.  I hope to be around to see at least part of it.