My project, 25 Days, is going to take me to 15 cities across the U.S. this year. I have just arrived in my fourth city, well, fifth, technically, Austin, Texas.
In my last post I proclaimed all the ways in which Amtrak is wonderful. I guess I should have seen it coming, but the train that I took almost directly there after, from St. Louis to Austin, would serve well in showing me the dark side of train travel. I would not go so far as to say it was a bad experience, because in it I have been able to ask myself some pretty basic questions, and within those questions, have struggled for answers. I have come to recognize that the struggle is the thing.
I boarded the train in St. Louis and found a seat in a very crowded car. All the lights in the car were dimmed, my seat mate was on the phone and it was about 9 pm, so I decided to go to the Lounge car to get some writing done.
Everything was going incredibly well. I had my headphones in, the internet reception was good enough to stay connected for the most part, and while there were people talking (and partying) all around me, I was able to get a lot of writing done.
That was until Mr. Drunk Guy decided to tap me on the shoulder, apologize for interrupting, and start talking to me about the meaning of life and how afraid he was to die. At first, I felt bad for him. I turned off my iPod, turned off the browser and gave him my full attention. He had been talking to someone else behind me an hour or so earlier, and I guess he had had a bit too much to drink while doing so. He went from leaning over my chair, to propping himself up on the chair next to me, to sitting kitty-corner from me, to sitting in the seat right next to me and putting his arm around me.
While it all happened over the period of about an hour, it seemed to have happened so quickly that I was shocked when he started to lovingly caress my hair and tell me how amazing I am. The former me, the me from Chicago with a chip on her shoulder and a point to prove, would have used every swear word in the book, twice, to let him know, in no uncertain terms that he was freaking me out. The new me? The one who has been letting go of her anger through yoga, therapy and energy work? Well, she didn’t know exactly how to handle this in a compassionate way. I backed away from him, told him he was too close, and explained my personal space bubble in firm but gentle detail.
Unfortunately, he did not really pick up on the vibe I was trying to throw. I don’t know if it was my grasp on the concept of non-attachment, or that I listened to him so intently, or that he had just had way too much to drink, but the guy behaved as if he had just stumbled upon the answer to all of his hopes and dreams in the form of a short blonde woman with headphones on, writing about meeting new and interesting people as she travels across the country.
Every time I thought about being rude, the very next thought that popped into my head? Hypocrite. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was some form of test laid out before me to stretch my holier-than-though attitude of tolerance, forgiveness and compassion. In the end, he kind of got my message, but didn’t leave before kissing me on the hand, the head, and giving me his business card, just in case I ever happened to find myself in Oklahoma.
After he left, I felt dirty. It was 2:30 in the morning, I had not finished what I was writing, and I just felt so conflicted about what had happened that I didn’t know exactly how to continue writing. The guy was clearly in pain, reaching out to connect with someone, and because I spend most of my days thinking about and acting on this very human need, I was almost too paralyzed to really do anything about it.
I ended up just going to sleep back in my seat. The next morning, my seat mate also hit on me. He did this while he was making plans via text with his new girlfriend to move into her place. He was also hitting on me via text, though I was sitting inches away from him. As he was hitting on me, Mr. Drunk Guy, now no longer drunk, raced by me several times, suitcase in hand, barely noticing me.
Both men hit on me through a vehicle. One, through alcohol, the other, through technology. These techniques are not revolutionary. They are time-tested and well-used.. It takes courage to be vulnerable, to put yourself out there without knowing for sure whether or not you will be smashed or grabbed. But we are human in the best possible way when we are vulnerable. To risk pain? To risk rejection? That is what it is to live.
When was the last time someone offered to be vulnerable for you? When was the last time you offered up your heart on a platter, knife and fork neatly rolled in a napkin waiting to be used to cut you open? I challenge you to meet this requirement. Open your chest and let us hear your heartbeat. Revel in your humanity, in your pain, in your struggle. Do it without the smell of beer on your breath, without the help of your qwerty board. Do it for the sake of your humanity. You are worthy of such feats.