When I was in fifth grade I went with my dad on a trip to Gambia (if you are unaware of the location of this small African country just give it a Google.) I distinctly remember leaving the country and having one of the most emotional experiences of my young life.
While we were there we met a wonderful man named Sam. Sam was with us during most of the time we spent in The Gambia. Now as I stepped through the gates into the corral to board the rickety prop plane back to Dakar and the metal barrier came between Sam and I felt tears begin to run down my face. Now for all twelve-almost-thirteen year-old boys crying in an airport is somewhere under coming to school only in their underwear on a list of most desirable things they wish to do. But nonetheless the tears came.
At first I couldn’t quite place the source of my sudden sorrow, but then my consciousness caught up to the part of my mind that had realized I would never see Sam again. I don’t remember if I made some sort of Hollywood style scene to run back through the gates to hug him or whether I just tried to suck it up silently; either way I was crying because, in all likelihood, I was never going to meet this wonderful man again in my life. As a twelve-almost-thirteen year-old kid the idea of the rest of my life seemed like quite a long time indeed.
It’s been years since I’ve thought of that day at the Banjul airstrip when I realized I wasn’t ever going to see Sam again. But it came back into my mind the other day as my family and I were leaving what just might be the polar opposite of third world Africa—a Disney Cruise. They are such opposites in that I am wholly convinced cruises are America’s way of showing the rest of the world that we have definitely won any competition for most obese, lazy, and incompetent nation on the planet. We are so proud of this victory, in fact, that we don’t even require foreigners to visit us to see proof. We have found an ingenious way to flaunt our triumph by placing our most egregiously overweight and obnoxious families on a boat together and parading them around the world to any major port city.
All that aside, on the cruise our servers began to bring me back there. They were fascinating people from all over the world. I’m nowhere near sure why this specific set of interactions stirred this memory up in me but regardless of reason it was exceedingly thought provoking.
There was a dissonance about our departure the last morning on the boat; something was unsettling about why we would have talked with people, shared life with people for no reason at all. It put me in a mindset to frame my encounters from that point forward.
For the rest of the summer I metaphorically cocked my head to the side, bit my lip and questioned the point of interpersonal relationships with eyes open wide. It was through this lens that I watched this glorious summer pass by.
It’s fascinating how people come and go from your life; all at once so concrete, so immediate and yet, simultaneously, so utterly intangible. It’s ghost-like how the existential realism—the impossible fullness of a life can flit so carelessly in and out of your field of vision.
The dark and violent riptide which underscores any connection—be it friendship, be it marriage is that eventually it will end. Wrapping my head around the concept of absolute finitude is second only to attempting to grasp infinitude. No matter how mind-boggling eternity gets nothing starts my heart racing and my skin crawling quite like pondering endings.
I can’t say I know how to deal with meeting people; it’s so vexing. You care for them, and they for you for however many sunny afternoons and rainy mornings you are blessed to share together. Then, as suddenly as it all began, you sit on the sidelines of your own life as you watch them disappear like a dream after awakening. I don’t think, as many people do, that nihilism is a valid answer. Likely, it’s just a lesson in savoring the beauty in the brevity we are given in these days of sun and rain.
The only way I sleep at night is comforting myself, maybe falsely so, with the thought that there has simply got to be a point to this most exquisitely painful aspect of our human condition. If only I could begin to grasp what it could be.