Cases in point. On our most recent trip to the Midwest, when my father had his fall, we came into contact with a lot of nurses and CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants). It was very easy to fall into the hospital routine and see them only as my father’s caregivers. But my mother and father didn’t. Each nurse or CNA was a person, and each had a story to tell.
Mom (and even Dad despite his painful circumstances) would ask each person about his or her life: where they lived; how long had they been in their job; did they have a family, and so forth.
Here are a few of the things we learned. Two were traveling nurses and one was headed to California next. (She was immediately invited to visit.) One young nursing assistant had been a national cheerleading champion five out of her seven years of competition. Another’s boyfriend was on the first ever Olympic Skateboarding team for the 2020 Olympics. One nurse was a huge Stephen King fan (which did worry me a bit); one CNA was working her way through law school. The nurse that flew with dad from Missouri to California had spent 24 years in the army as a medic. And the stories continued. Some amazing; others rather ordinary, but all unique.
So on my most recent solo trip, I decided to take a page out of my parents “travel book.” When I hit the bus portion of my Amtrak journey from Fresno to LA (Yes, non Americans, our train service includes buses), I decided to break the ice with my seatmate by asking him if he would like me to put the large brown paper bag on his lap in the overhead compartment. He smiled, said no, and pulled it closer to him, so I sat down and contemplated a different approach. He spoke first and asked me if I was a teacher. I looked a bit startled and asked him if I looked like one. He said yes. I decided I didn’t want to know why, so I asked him what he did instead.
“I just got out of prison,” he said. Startled moment number two.
“When?” I asked.
“Today,” he answered.
Obviously his powers of observation were much better than mine, because while he pegged me for a teacher right away, I completely missed the whole “brown paper bag holding all his worldly possessions” bit.
Despite this rough start, we had a wonderful conversation. He told me about his family waiting for him, his hopes and aspirations, and yes, why he had gone to prison and some of what it had been like.
Everyone has more to them than what meets the eye. Everyone has a unique story to tell, and most are willing to share it, if we just take the time to ask . . . and then listen. Trust me––you will be surprised.