Three cheers for America the talkative! In an airport, standing in the security line, on the plane, I’ve been talking to people. I’ve discovered a need to share. The slightest comment about a heavy backpack, bare feet, or a spinach salad provides an opening.
From such beginnings I’ve talked to strangers about Tibetan Buddhism, about whether airports are safer today than before 9/11, about a sister’s daughter with a lesbian partner not welcome at home.
How have these pleasures evolved? Somehow we’ve recognized a need, given time, listened. There was contact. Smiles, frowns—even openly suppressed frowns—were telling: change direction, go on. “Yeah, right!” “No, really?” Smiles could lead to laughs, touches: a nudge, a brush on the forearm, a clap on the shoulder—from strangers! I have a new friend: the person sitting next to me on the plane.
We shared not just ideas, but time, and timing. We knew when to take turns and when to interrupt, but interrupt quickly, to add just a quick riff during the other person’s solo. Folks talk about personal matters and business, too. The price of air travel, fuel, real estate, the hurricanes, the war. Shared awareness of what we’re up against became shared respect for each other’s perceptions. My partners in conversation have parents or children or roommates with connections to these events. Stories follow. Commiseration. A quiet “Wow!” or “That must be tough.”
My partners and I have built on nothing. We have learned by confiding that we can think and care together. Each dialogue is cumulative, a potential anecdote in a future exchange. Between strangers we increase the confidence we can place in our community. Each conversation is an act of kindness, a bond. It’s called friendship. In our present state, we can also call it citizenship.