I’m big on having exactly one New Year’s Resolution. This is not because I want to focus all of my heart and soul into one particular enterprise, striving to achieve that goal with the best of everything I have, but because I have a poor memory and end up forgetting anything more than one resolution anyway.
Therefore, to have more than one resolution in this case is doubly tragic – I am reminded of my atrocious ability to recall even the most basic of facts in my own life, and I realize that for the 10th consecutive year I have insisted on making all of my resolutions at 12:03 a.m., three minutes into a fresh start at a moment when I should be more concerned about getting out of the middle of the street, putting my shirt back on or keeping my remaining teeth firmly lodged in my head.
So, I’ll go public with this one, and in true columnist fashion completely dodge any specifics whatsoever. Let me call up from my (admittedly) awful memory a moment I do recall from this past year, when a stranger gave me as close to what I can term good life advice as I’ve yet encountered.
A man approaches me in Augusto Sandino International Airport in Managua, Nicaragua. He has long brown hair, and in an odd way, he looks like me, upside down. Where my traveler’s beard lopes downwards off my chin, his traveler’s hair scraggles up above his scalp. His face is tired, baggy, but he folds the bags away with a smile.
He puts his hand up to the glass partition that divides arriving and departing passengers and calls me over. I put my ear to the glass; it is cool, and his breath when he speaks warms it.
“The Managua airport, among many things, has the glass-paneled walkway for arriving passengers right next to the seating area for boarding passengers,” he says. “That arrangement quite literally lets you see where you started, and for that I am grateful.”
I start to respond, but he holds up his hand.
“It’s not an exhaustive or particularly deep process of thought, thinking of where you began, but at least naturally, it provides a place to start. I’ve spent months here. Does it seem longer? Shorter?”
I wonder if he is asking me. He is not. I have just gotten off a plane, and I am eager to join the queue for the bizarre H1N1 body heat scanner that looks like something out of Total Recall and get on to my adventure.
He continues, “It is impossible to say. More than anything it feels like a collection of events that jockey for position, color and clarity in memory, the brightest and most favorable knocking the dull into the background, the horrifying or excruciating staying on like a bad wind no matter how hard you shake your head to dislodge them.”
He looks backwards, from me to the line of people growing behind and in front of me as they squirm to get past.
“So who do I see getting off this plane? Gringos? Countrymen? Foreigners? Surfers? Backpackers? Peace Corps-ers? Five-Day Ragers? Mission groups? All of them, probably. Just like my flight and those before. Do you know why I think they have this glass here?”
“Why, then?” I ask.
“To keep people from doing what you and I are doing. From murking up someone’s future. From telling someone what you’ve learned in the vain and selfish hope that you can somehow influence their life. That you, in a small and entirely significant way, can alter the trajectory of their life.”
“So they put glass up. We can still shout through it. We’re doing it now,” I say.
“That’s a matter of finance. Nicaragua is a very poor country,” he says.
“So?” I am getting impatient.
“So. I ask myself: What would I say to them if I could through this glass?” he questions.
“You have your chance,” I say. “What?”
“Dig deeper. Swim farther. Think longer. Write smaller. Save yourself some space for the fantastic and improbable,” he says, and lifts his bag, stained and ripped and missing a strap. “Just because you aren’t the first, just because you too one day will sit in my seat and watch the next flight land, think of yourself, standing on the edge of a calm sea, watching only your ripples pass to the edge and disappear.”
Article posted on 1/4/2010
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