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The people we meet. The people we are. Standing next to us in line as we wait to board a flight to Santa Fe for a baby’s memorial, sitting next to us in the car as we drive to the airport, serving us coffee on the flight kind of people.

The people, the people.

How contagious we all are.

This morning my husband got a call that upset him.  He’s dealing with some things for his cousin’s funeral on Saturday which meant that today he’d be in the car the whole day back and forth to the Valley again. He’s processing the sudden death of his cousin and the call upset him so when we got in the car for the airport, he was short with me. The drive was tense. I understood that he wasn’t mad at me yet I sat staring at the window feeling angry because sometimes what we understand doesn’t matter.

Now I’m in a bad mood. It’s that fast, this passing of the germ and if I am not careful I will pass it on to whomever is unlucky enough to be standing next to me in line as I wait to board the flight for Santa Fe.

My husband apologizes and all is forgotten. As quickly as I entered the BadMoodVille, I left it. The people we are.

The people all the people. Pay attention to the people standing in line trying to get through security, shaking their watches down their wrists when they climb too far up, taking off their boots, patting down the bodies, rolling their luggage types of people.

You’re not so different. How the same we all are.

I stand in line to board the flight and start talking to the man next to me. Turns out he is going to Santa Fe for a class at a Zen center on rituals in service for the dying . The people me meet. We talk for twenty minutes about Jews and Buddhism, meditation, marriage, children, Seattle (where he lives), small airplanes, Philadelphia (where we are both from), travel nightmares and yoga. In fact, he is sitting by me now as we switched seats so we could keep talking.

I was less fascinated by this connection than I would have been in the past, not because it wasn’t lovely, but because as he put it, the doors are always there we just have to pay attention. He said that. He spoke of paying attention, this stranger in line next to me.

The people are always there we just don’t see them until we look. Sometimes they are there our whole lives, right in front of us, and we grope around blindly as if we couldn’t just open our eyes. As if it wasn’t that easy. As if we were glued to dark. In The Mockingbirds, of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, she says this line “ All they had to give was their willingness to pay attention.” I love that line. I recited it to the man in line as we walked our luggage to the little trolley cart.

Pay attention. The people you meet. The people we are.

I could have stood next to the man in front of me who looked sullen and tired. I could have stayed in my bad mood and not asked Uri (that’s his name) Is this the line for the flight to Santa Fe? and instead just walked up to the screen and looked for myself so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. So I wouldn’t have to do with people.

The people we meet. If we pay attention.

One time on a train in New York City, I met the devil.

He’d stood beside me and balanced himself on a small wooden crutch. He had red eyes and a shiny bald head. His left leg ended at the knee, the bottom half of his corduroys swung back and forth with the motion of the train, empty.

He whispered, in a way which made me think he asked this often: Would you like to see it? Does it excite you?

Under the flourescent lights, his scalp became a screen. Flickering images that fade into one another. And like clouds, his head fascinated me.

Nobody else on the train could see my father reflected on this man’s skull.

It was like in our old super eights: my father smoking a cigarette and leaning over a brisket, kissing my mother on the lips, his mother’s apartment a little too cluttered.

So in answer to the man’s question, I told him No, your leg does not excite me.

But I wanted to yell: Your head, this magical head, gives me back my father, my Bubby, before the nursing home when she still made her famous brisket, the brisket she would still ask us about years after she’d stopped cooking. After she’d been in the nursing home for three years.

I wanted to take the Devil’s head into my hands and rub my fingers, in tune with the sound of his corduroy rubbing corduroy. I want to run my fingers over my father’s face and feel the bump on his nose from being broken so many times.

I wanted to hold a world.

But I didn’t. I got off the train and told the Devil to fuck off and that he was a pervert.

I never forgot what I saw though. How I paid attention for that moment and all the people who came for it. My father, my Bubby, a younger version of my mother.

How sometimes things choose us.

Uri told me that he was going to a cabin in the woods to do a meditation retreat by himself and that he’d asked his teacher for any advice. The teacher told him not to bring any device that told time. To walk if he felt like walking, to sit if he felt like sitting, to walk again when he no longer felt like sitting in meditation, to eat when he was hungry, to sleep when he was tired and to get up when he felt rested. How simple it sounded and yet I thought how I might fail at that. I don’t know when I am hungry half the time after all the years of starving myself. The signals get lost. I wake up, look at the clock and seeing it’s later than I would have liked, I beat myself up. I wake up early and seeing it’s not late enough I deem how tired I am. Listen to myself? What’s that?

The people we meet, the people telling us just what it is that we need to hear before we board a flight to New Mexico. The people showing us exactly who we need to remember through images on their skull. How sometimes things just choose us if we pay attention. The people showing us exactly who we need to be.

I sat down in my new seat next to Uri once I got on the tiny plane. He turned and asked me Why do you write?

You see?

The people we meet. The people we are. The people on the plane and in the car and in the world all speaking the things you need to hear whether you realize it now or later.  Do you have to write, is that it? He asked.

Yes.

Took a stranger on a plane to ask me that. I went to the little lavatory in the back on the plane and looked in the mirror fascinated by the question. Why do I write?

Writing helps me pay attention. It helps me realize how contagious we are. How the people we meet in whatever way we meet them are guiding us closer and closer toward our selves.

Don’t believe me? Go stand next to someone in line and start talking. Go talk to the men working in tandem, clipping the hedges with their muscular forearms. Go talk to the man on the train, on the street. Go talk to the woman who rear-ended you with her car. See if you don’t learn a thing or two about yourself. See if what they say doesn’t make you wonder if things really do choose us. See if they don’t spark something small inside of you.

Uri told me that his meditation teacher told him not to draw conclusions. To which he asked about anything? The teacher simply said about everything. 

When we remember that we don’t know anything we can be surprised.

By all of it. When we think we know it all there is nothing to learn.

About everything. Draw no conclusions. Pay attention to the people you meet, pay attention to yourself, pay attention to the flickering images playing on someone’s head because it will tell you everything. Listen to the people speak. Listen for clues. Listen for whatever reason you listen but listen.

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