The people we meet in the places we go affect me. Though I love every stunning vista and mountaintop experience, personal growth and change doesn’t come from long views of far off places.
What impacts me most, what makes it into my heart and mind, are the folks found up close within arm’s reach. Travel for me is not about destinations. Travel is most definitely about keeping my eyes open to the people along the way.
Every month or so Daniel reluctantly looks for a place to get his hair cut. If we didn’t live as nomads it would be easy. He’d call his friend, Norma, and she would perform her magic just as she’s done for more than a decade. But, when we aren’t anywhere near Indiana, Daniel rolls the dice and puts his head in the hands of a stranger.
I usually go with him to the salons. I believe a community’s character can be found by hanging out in the local barber shop or beauty salon. Besides, I like to sit in the waiting area and read all the magazines I refuse to buy.
Recently Daniel wanted his hair cut so I found a beauty salon nearby. Five-star reviews for the business and stylists filled us with hope for my husband’s finicky follicles. According to loyal customers in the town of Big Flats, New York, you’d be wise to get your hair done at Shear Knowledge.
After checking in at reception, we grabbed a couple of chairs and immediately started reading the breaking news on our phones. I could feel someone looking at me. A voice seemed to be having a one-sided conversation. Were they talking to me? Was I so engrossed with Facebook that I missed something?
Covertly glancing up from my phone I saw four feet near mine. I hadn’t even noticed the people seated to my right. When the gentleman kept chattering in my direction, I finally looked him in the eyes and put my phone away.
Gosh, he reminded me of my dad: the smile, the laugh, the way he held his wife’s hand while he talked.
Soon Daniel, too, joined the conversation with this sweet old couple. We listened as Robby told stories about his property’s projects and John Deere tractor, troublesome trees, travel plans, and insurance problems. Mrs. Robby sat quietly and nodded as he spoke. Aren’t they adorable? I thought.
When Robby’s wife occasionally got fidgety and impatient he’d reassure her that they’d be getting their hair done before too long. “The girls will be ready for us soon,” he gently said.
I began to see something in the way Robby and his wife interacted, a familiar something, that unearthed memories of my parents. I’d sat with Mom and Dad many times in waiting areas and watched Daddy keep Mom steady.
When I finally made eye contact with Mrs. Robby I recognized a hazy stare similar to my mom. I knew that lost look. If she had dementia…. My heart broke for both of them. The longer I watched and listened, the more convinced I was of her condition.
Robby was like my dad in more ways than his congeniality. He looked to be walking the same hard road my dad walked. Did Robby feel exhausted? How big is his support system? Does he have help? So many questions. I had no right to ask.
Daniel’s stylist came to get him, but instead of reading the latest People I sat transfixed by two real people from Big Flats, New York. I watched as the stylists, girls who’d been friends with their children, carefully cut their hair and I continued to watch as they made their next appointments and left.
I texted my sister about Robby and Mrs. Robby. The encounter felt both like a gift and a gutting. Though time has passed since losing my dad, not a day goes by without a pang of sadness and loss.
As Daniel walked my direction I suddenly felt an urgent need to do something for the two strangers.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. I willed my tears to wait until I got outside. “I don’t mean to be weird,” I said. This, by the way, is how I start a lot of conversations.
“I don’t mean to be weird, but the couple who just left…they remind me so much of my parents and I’d like to do something for them.”
The girls at Shear Knowledge graciously allowed me to pay it forward for the couple’s next appointment. “Should I tell them anything or say who did this for them?”
Swallowing the lump in my throat I shook my head. “No,” I said, “they wouldn’t know who I am. I just wanted to do something.”
Daniel and I left and my tears flowed.
Several days have passed since I met Robby. Daniel and I have journeyed to outstanding overlooks in idyllic tourist towns. We’ve stood and surveyed long-distance views often pictured on postcards. And, while those experiences moved me, none touched my heart like my short time with that sweet old guy in the beauty salon.
Robby reminded me of something important because he reminded me of someone important.
My dad always made me feel special. He treated everyone that way. He was a people person. Though Dad had traveled quite a bit and accumulated a lifetime of belongings, he treasured most his personal connections and relationships.
At his funeral I heard story after story of well-remembered conversations, listening ears, shared wisdom, hugs, encouraging words, and a good belly laugh. Robby reminded me of all that good stuff, my inheritance from Daddy.
I believe my dad is up in Heaven now enjoying unimaginably beautiful scenery, vistas beyond anything here on earth. He has the ultimate long-view now. But, I needed a nudge to pay attention to the people right in front of me.
In a little beauty salon in Big Flats, New York, I got a gentle reminder that it’s the people I meet and not the places I go.