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60 to 60: Travel Stories/Judging Books by Covers

Jay and I decide to grab something to eat. We're on a delay, again, which means that our time in Houston is going to be fast and furious. We'll be running to get through customs quickly--as if that's a real thing--and race back to the terminal to catch a plane to Denver. My husband will definitely need more than a stroopwafel the size of a quarter or the 10 mini pretzels we'll be offered on the flight. (I can happily survive on cheesey crackers, almonds and water while traveling.) Word on the street here at the Cozumel airport is that the food here is pretty good.

There's one table with a young Indian man sitting there, 3 empty chairs. We lug our trays and carry-ons over through the maze of crowded humans and luggage and begin to gesture to the chairs, may we please join you? Soon, a friendly Food Court worker approaches us and says, oh I can get you another table, there is one opening up over there. I think well, this is weird, I turn to the young man and ask, do you mind us being here? He says no no, sits back in his seat. I say to her, we are fine right here, thank you so much. But are you sure, see that table right there... We are great here, thanks. We sit.

Perhaps what she fears is a potentially awkward interaction between strangers? Has she made assumptions about us? It would be quite easy to peg us as a well-off, white American couple. Who may or may not be comfortable sitting with someone they don't know.

I relish the opportunity to learn about others. Always have! Especially those that seem so different than me.

It's not that I think long and hard about what we may encounter when we start to connect with this young man. (Frankly, I'm ecstatic about these two open chairs. My feet hurt. I'm getting too old for flip-flops.) Quick judgements and social conditioning run deep. We learned all sorts of things as tiny little kids, from all the grown-ups around us, when we had no idea what was going on. It's in the bio-cellular memory.

I realize now, that I fully expect him to be like all of the Indian men I've met: deeply spiritual, with a daily meditation/yoga practice, vegetarian. I think of Govind and his sweet family in Rishikesh, Somit in Varanasi, Anand at Sattva Yoga Academy.

Surely this young man from India will be excited to learn I have a teacher, based in the Himalayas in the birthplace of yoga? That he'll want to hear all about my training program? My particular brain in this particular body has only known certain people in particular situations in this life. Of course, that's where my brain channels lead me.

But, no. He's not intrigued nor charmed. In fact, my table mate is decidedly UN-interested, as he smiles and looks at me. Oh, he says, you're into all that spiritual stuff? The yoga and such? I almost spit out my bean and cheese burrito. I tease, do I detect a bit of scorn here? No, he says, it's just not my way.

Shiv is a Roman Catholic man from Goa, India. His first name is a "nickname" for a longer Indian forename, or first name. His family surname is Rodrigues with an S he insists, not a Z. Five hundred years of Portuguese influence on this southern area of India affected everyone and everything. There was no yoga, no gurus, no dietary restrictions. Goan Catholics make up 26% of the population of this area. I learn later that it's only since 1961 that Goa is living free from Portuguese rule.

Can I tell you how delighted I am to learn about him? With each snippet of his life he shares, we are pulling down curtains of perception, cutting through preconceived notions, and chipping away assumptions and judgement, all as Shiv devours a double cheeseburger with a side of fries.

He works as a casino worker, or a croupier, on a major cruise-ship line. As he speaks, I notice he's watching everyone here in the Food Court. I can picture him at the casino table, with the chips and the clatter and constant noise and lights, all that drinking, observing. He works every day for eight months straight. No days off. I can see his nervous system relax as he sits, free for the first time, in eight months.

Shiv has about 30 hours of travel ahead of him to get home, where his mother lives. What will you do when you get home? He lights up. Fish. Now Jay perks up, too. Will you fish every day for months? I will, he says, while a huge grin takes up his whole lovely face. By yourself, I inquire? Oh yes.

Ah, another introvert playing an extravert on tv.

We all make assumptions about people based on our own experiences in life. We assume we're always correct because it's what we think we know. We make assumptions about others ALL the time, perhaps seeking out validation to confirm our beliefs, I'm not sure.

The next time I'm in a crowded airport restaurant or a busy coffee shop, I will once again ask if I may join a table. I'll put away any preconceived notions I happen to be carrying around that day, and I'll just show up. No books, no covers.


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