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It is good to be reminded.

Let me explain.

We all know a great deal. Whether it is useful or meaningful or if for some reason you just know how to beat Super Mario Brothers in under twenty minutes, we all know a substantial amount about the world, most of which someone next to us doesn’t know.

A very small portion of what we know is comprised of things we understand. Interestingly, unlike things we know, the amount of things we understand has no correlation to age.

There are countless thirteen-year-old girls who understand how to comfort someone, no matter the reason that someone needs comfort. This is nothing I have come to understand.

Things we understand cannot be evaluated on multiple-choice tests or essay exams. They are processes and ideals and ancient, evolving social structures that biology, and anthropology and all the sciences in cooperation haven’t been able to entirely figure out. Religions might have an outside chance of getting it if they could just get over themselves. Spirituality is too general a term. .. I do not understand it.

What we understand and the other things we know are supplemented by what we grasp.

Picture yourself on the monkey bars back when our society didn’t think monkey bars were too dangerous. You know you are on those bars and that you will cross to other side. But, your hands are slimy because the hands of children who climb the monkey bars are always slimy. You know you are on those bars, but it is harder for you to defend your position on those bars. If you are challenged in any way, friction will cease and you will fall to the woodchips below. You do not firmly know you have those bars, you grasp those bars.

We only grasp a great deal of what we think we know. Sometimes what we grasp can be correct and right and true, but until it is challenged and we learn to know it, it doesn’t matter. We still only grasp it.

Such is travel, particularly travel to a place with a culture foreign to you. You can challenge what you grasp and come to know. You can take things that you know and come to understand something greater.

I have been abroad before and I am always blown away by how similar people are no matter where I go. Culture and language and if your family name comes first or second, it all doesn’t matter.

It is good to be reminded of that.

I find that most people will say that they know this: that we are all similar, that we are all people, no matter where in this world you go. But, I think most of us just grasp this. I love every moment that I am able to reaffirm that I am fortunate enough to understand this.

I was jammed on a crowded bus on my way to school this morning. A mother dragged her young son on and stood beside me. The boy was babbling. He was pointing out the window and naming the stores he saw. He was young and symmetrical, and therefore, invariably cute. His incessant chatter aided him in this pursuit of being so.

It was all very adorable and average until I caught the glimpse of an elderly woman seated not far from the boy and his mother and me. Her hair had long ago ceased to be graying, instead finding stability in a permanent, deadened gray. Her aged face hid behind big white sunglasses, but her focus was too strong to hide, dark lenses or otherwise.

She was intent on swallowing every morsel of every word and gesture and movement that the little boy made. She appeared to have lost control of her smile, as it swerved and sped and brightened with every silly, little-boy-thing, the little boy did.

Maybe she was on that bus to go see her own grandson and the little boy was a welcome reminder of what was to come. Or maybe the woman had no son, and so, as things work, had no grandson, and she was trying to absorb enough of the boy to feel the glow that grandparents must feel.

It is fair to assume that I will never know if either, if any of that is true.

When the bus got a little heavier after a few stops and the mother had to hold her little son, this elderly woman rose
from her seat and, after a series of “di jobu, di jobu,” it’s okay, it’s okay, she swapped positions with the mother.

The elderly woman turned and took one last full-swathing glance of the boy and his mother cradled together in the bus seat that the elderly woman just offered the pair. She did so with a sort of envy that held no sense of vengeance. It was natural and supportive and wholly human. Not strictly Japanese and not entirely American.

At the next stop, the old woman got off and walked away. The little boy kept talking as his mother tried to close her eyes for a moment’s rest. It is likely that the mother will never remember and even likelier that the little boy will never know, but that elderly woman was happy watching the mother and her son. Truly and authentically pleased and warmed for four minutes by two strangers. I don’t need to know her name or even how to ask her her name to know that.

I have seen this scene before. In many places and in many ways and at many times.

I understand that people are people everywhere, even in the most delicate of manners.

Still. It is good to be reminded.


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