When I boarded the Minneapolis-Chicago Megabus last Saturday, I was looking forward to hunkering down in my (slightly) itchy, (extremely) uncomfortable seat, popping in my noise-canceling headphones, and zoning out for a solid eight hours.
Although I do occasionally enjoy making light conversation with interesting and eclectic strangers, I just wasn’t in the mood. I was already feeling a bit stressed and overwhelmed, and wasn’t excited about the possibility of a potentially loquacious traveler invading my personal space.
Never one to arrive early (or on time, for that matter), I was among the last to board the bus. Few open seats remained, so I quickly scanned the passengers’ faces and decided to plop next to a quiet-looking man with small, kind eyes and salt-and-pepper scruff.
As I got situated, I noticed he seemed uncomfortably contorted into the seat by the window. Before I could say anything, he said, “Would you mind if we switched places? I’ve got these extremely long legs….”
So, there it was. The barrier of silence had been broken. Cue the mildly uncomfortable small talk and the slightly forced conversation, each of us pretending to be overwhelmingly interested in the other’s life.
What brings you to Chicago? Oh, you live in Minneapolis? How completely fascinating. What do you do for a living? What do you like to do for fun?
Bobby and I continued to chat past the point of typical, meaningless stranger talk, though, and I was surprised how much I was enjoying myself.
There was something different about this bus buddy, something that drew me in, made me want to keep asking questions and genuinely look forward to his answers.
Maybe it was because I couldn’t figure out how old he was.
He spoke with the maturity of one who had, for decades, traveled the world, read good poetry, researched philosophy, studied multiple languages and engaged in the arts.
What threw me off was the playfulness in his spirit.
As he talked about these vast, abstract concepts—beauty, nature, metaphysics, meditation, thinking, being—there was a youthful spark in his eye that reminded me of the vitality and excitement my little brother embodies when he tells a dramatic or hilarious story.
Sure, my encounter with Bobby “taught” me some “things about life.” When I was thinking of how to best write this column, I considered simply listing out the things we talked about.
You know, musing on the lens through which Bobby sees the world. Reflecting on philosophical concepts that have completely blown my hungry little mind. Ending with a few little “life lessons” that I think everyone should, at some point, come to learn.
That could have been an effective and interesting read but, to be honest, I think I would discount the importance of my serendipitous experience if I tried to perfectly craft it into words. That very idea, actually, is what I’ve taken away from my time with Bobby.
Thinking is obviously an important part of being a human. We must be willing to think deeply, obscurely, abstractly, critically. But, at the same time, we must not be so busy thinking that we forget to be.
To sense, to feel, to observe…without using words.
Walk into an open field, close your eyes, and feel sunlight on your face and a breeze against your cheekbones. Try not to think to yourself, “Wow, this feels fantastic. What a lovely moment this is. Nature is so great, blah blah blah.”
The minute you try to encapsulate this a pure, beautiful experience into letters and phrases, the simplistic majesty of it slips away.
Like Bobby said, “You can feel something so wonderful in a single moment if you let yourself just be.”
It’s interesting that this stranger talked to me about peace, beauty, nature and rest, because I’ve been on the verge of a stress-induced breakdown for a couple weeks now.
I’ve found that I struggle to be fully present in any given moment, because my mind is always racing ahead to the next assignment, next appointment, next work shift.
I need to slow down. I need to enjoy the simple, natural beauty of each moment that passes. The small act of quieting my mind and letting myself sit in silence, even in the middle of a bustling coffee shop, can help me feel more relaxed and present.
When I boarded the Megabus, all I wanted to do was shut out the world. I have to admit, I never expected a bus ride through Wisconsin to alter my view of things. I only talked with Bobby for a few hours, but I know that the things he said will weigh heavy on my heart for a long time.
I’ve only just begun to share what it is he and I talked about, but that’s OK. It’s OK that I don’t have words for everything. My brief encounter with a beautiful stranger has taught me more about life than I have even realized yet; and there are new things I know to be true, even if I can’t say them yet.