I didn’t get a tree this year, nor am I hanging up stockings. I am at peace, my remaining son at home is at peace. I’ve strung light over the living room windows and across the mantle, and that is enough. There’s a gas fire to sit by, for now, which, with the fatigue from a full day at a job I enjoy, is all the atmosphere I need in the evenings. Weekends I go for a long walk, run, or bike to the coffee shop and do a little reading and writing, enjoy my latte in a mug and the view of the water.
Last week as I was perusing the shrunken local paper, mostly devoid of local news, a man at the table next to me and I fell to talking, and by the end of the conversation, which came about because, as I see it, he had no wish to make an ongoing human connection, I had heard most of the story of his career and life history. I have no reason to be skeptical of it, other than that he told it so freely, which is unusual, as the only opening to the conversation was his jesting that he had to leave from the table because he didn’t like to be so near a story about Trump.
He told me was the son of Japanese immigrants who had lost their farm to the war and internment, who had then brought up their son as a field worker alongside them, the only Asians among Latino migrant workers. His family moved to successively larger communities, and he came to be the only one of five who went on to college from his small high school in California. He studied agriculture, then switched to medicine, becoming eventually the head of a pulmonary care unit in a large hospital, bringing it into the top ranks of care and then going on to manage many other units and train others to do the same. He said he was semi-retired and had circumnavigated the Puget Sound area and found he enjoyed this town in which he found this particular coffee shop.
He still felt like an outsider, he said, being Asian in a mainly non-Asian community. I suggested that although there was a genetically derived predisposition in folks to distinguish “us” versus “them” by physical attributes, those distinctions could be largely forgotten as relationships developed on the human social plane. He was skeptical.
We spoke a little of my life history, of my early adult plan to be a an apologist and discipler for Christ among university students, then marrying, raising four children, homeschooling, and spending two and a half years living in Israel as a family. How we had raised our children with a pattern of critical thinking, questioning, always learning, and experiencing life in different cultures as we were able. He commended me for this, and highlighted the value in a continued relationship with my adult children as they made their way in the world and tried to discern what was good and meaningful and how to build a life. I tried to draw a connection between the way my adult sons, especially, enjoy a good debate, and the way “his “guys”, as he called them, would get together to debate and argue. he said it was in the [male] genes. That rang the usual off key jarring note for me. I have so often felt “other” as a woman who wants to engage with ideas, argue and debate from a position of emotional detachment. I said so, and explained that my late husband and I had found through the Meyers Briggs typing system that he, apparently, is a type that was 95% women, and I was a type that was 95% men. The coffee shop acquaintance was skeptical, and even took a slightly patronizing tone, as if I couldn’t understand such things, really. Which, though it irked me at the time, is no doubt true, as in the same way, he could never understand my things. All in the natural order/disorder, I suppose, one of the spices of life, like some women being able to beat some men in arm wrestling.
Yet I said my sons would enjoy talking with him. He was gone within minutes of that. By edging around the boundaries of a conversation that was intended as a random positive encounter between strangers, I was at risk of opening the possibility for connection and complication. I felt that, and my habit is usually to leave it that way, just enjoy the hit-and-run, no real responsibility, clean-cut moments that simply add interest to life–bloggable moments, if you will. But I have also felt an instinct to build bridges, especially where there are none of the usual kind, and one could only imagine, and guess and check, how they might proceed, and whether they may bring regrets. I will sometimes succeed.
My friend, when I texted a brief synopsis to her later, asked if he was handsome. I laughed, thinking, not unnaturally: definitely not–he was short, of slight build, and Japanese with a scraggly beard. My idea of Other. But that’s not how I put it into words, becasue I really didn’t want to package things up in that box.
Not an encounter of that type, I said, feeling guilty for my basic instincts, wondering how they may limit my options of happiness, and wondering if my idea of a mate might take new directions, based on something more lofty and soulful than it is now.