(As we approach another Veteran's Day, and in an attempt to rinse the foul taste of political misfortune from my mouth, I offer this peek at a chance encounter with a Vietnam era vet.)
Carol and I were heading home from a visit to relatives in California on a flight out of LAX. As we settled into our seats, a man sat down next to me on what was to be a fully loaded flight. He was a tad older than me with a pleasant southern accent. He was headed to our intermediate point, Nashville. (Personal details have been left out of this story to preserve privacy.)
He was obviously alone, and we struck up a conversation ... something with which I'm not always comfortable or likely to do on a crowded commercial flight.
Mr. Tennessee was on his way to family in Nashville, where he planned to make a new home after being forced - via eminent domain - to sell his house for a Southern California highway improvement. He was quite happy with this situation as he felt he had received a very fair buyout. He was a transplant who had settled in California out of the Vietnam-era military; and he was ready to use this life-changing opportunity to head back Home.
Tennessee told me at some point during our chat, he likes people and likes to talk until he runs out of interesting things to say. He did not disappoint ...
So Tennessee launched into an overview of places he had served in Vietnam and military units of which I could make little sense, let alone remember. He spoke indirectly about some of the things he had seen there and of some of the things he did. He also spoke of more peaceful experiences he had enjoyed while in-country and how he felt his service there had shaped his later life. He expressed his admiration for those serving now, and spoke of how serving in the military has changed since he served as a volunteer in a draft-filled military.
Needless to say, I was in full Listening Mode.
Then as the conversation became more two-sided, we shared what our fathers did during World War II. My dad serving in Alaska's Aleutian Islands, then the Philippines preparing for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. His dad getting destroyers shot out from beneath him in the Pacific. Then Mr. Tennessee turned to what he did in his post-military work-a-day world. How much he enjoyed his sideline craftsman's hobby; how he looked forward to doing it more - as a man of retired leisure - in his still-to-be-determined Nashville locale; how much he looked forward to his new life situation.
At one point during the 3 1/2 hours to Nashville, Carol leaned over and whispered, "Lucky you, you got the talker." But I was having perhaps the most enjoyable flight ever. (Let's face it! We've all looked around those departure gate waiting areas, picking out the people we don't want to sit next to ... especially not for a 4-hours flight!) I was enjoying the passing of time with good, interesting conversation with someone whose life experience was very different from my own.
It's puzzling to me the way certain normal, everyday interactions pique my interest more so than other normal, everyday interactions. Maybe I project something onto them. Maybe I focus on interactions that fit in some way my view of the world. Maybe they just strike a chord in a place I value.
Anyways ... I was happy for him - a complete stranger - and for the comfort level he found in his life. He seemed to have "It" figured out for himself; and he was at a good place. He seemed genuinely satisfied with Life and for what the Future held.
And who wouldn't want to live in that part of Tennessee?!?