The ways in which life works out are truly strange, at the mercy of circumstance, and determined so much by chance. The decisions we make and the outcomes of those decisions are very difficult to predict and any vision of the future is obscured by a thick shroud of unpredictability, improbability, and sometimes pure chance. Not only this, but I’ve found that not only are our lives drastically impacted by our own independent decisions, but that our decisions also impact the lives of those around us in ways we are often unable to anticipate. Furthermore, it is undeniable that the reverse is also true: the actions and decisions of others affect our own circumstances, our own livelihoods, and our own ability to interpret, understand, and act in the world. I think that the duality of the human experience extends beyond the individual and extends into our relationships with the people that we encounter in our experience of life and existence — the push and pull between each other, how our actions feed back on the actions of others and how their actions feed forward on our future decisions, and the rippling nature of consequence through the web of human interactions. I believe that we’re all responsible for our own lives, but there’s so much of life that is unanticipated, unplanned, and unexpected for this very reason.
I believe that we all must choose our own North Star to guide us, but often times we only catch glimpses of where that North Star will lead us and what our lives will ultimately look like (or at least what we want that life to look life). And I also believe despite the capricious and chaotic nature that can characterize life, if we truly value the relationships we care about and we truly set ourselves on achieving the goals dictated by our morals and principles, we must continuously set ourselves to the task of achieving those goals and maintaining those relationships we value.
These are just a few of the stories that embody these ideas.
I find it incredibly ironic that given how much we know about the world and how much we know about the universe, the world feels as if it is becoming an increasingly small place. The size of Earth has remained unchanged, but more and more easily are people able to circumnavigate the planet and visit all corners of the globe. We are increasingly able to come to grips with the incomprehensible vastness and scale of the universe as well as come to terms with the scope of its early beginnings and its progression to the modern age. However, despite the grandness of the universe and how sophisticated we have become in our knowledge of the world, the world feels smaller, lands and countries seem closer, and people seem more knowable. The sensation that the world is becoming a smaller and smaller place as people become more and more connected speaks to how valuable human relationships are to the individual experience.
But when most people speak of a small world, they often speak of how social media and the internet has changed the game of “six degrees of separation.” However, I experienced a much more bizarre and literal story of the world as a small village.
One evening, despite GPS assistance, I was having trouble navigating to a pick-up location. Driving around the DMV area can be challenging because there always seems to be construction, which leads to changes to the traffic pattern and traffic directions. Add on top of that that I was driving in a part of the city that I was unfamiliar with on a Saturday night filled with people walking up and down and across the street, and I found myself taking an extra 10 minutes to get to a pick-up location after getting twisted and turned around from no-turns, detours, and road closed signs. Finally arriving to the pick up location on the right side of the road, I apologized profusely to the couple that I just picked up, explaining why I was late. I then swiftly took us on our way to pick up a 3rd passenger, offhandedly saying, “Maybe you’ll make a new friend tonight,” referring to the 3rd passenger.
On our way to the 3rd passenger, I introduced myself and made small talk with the couple that I just picked up. They told me how they had recently graduated from college and were both doing research in graduate school. They loved the more urban setting of Washington D.C. having come from a small town in the northeast. But before I could ask them to elaborate further, we found ourselves picking up our 3rd passenger. I introduced myself and the first couple to the 3rd passenger and as I pulled away from the curb, the 3 of them started to elaborate on their own life stories.
The third passenger worked as a waitress/bartender for a trendy and popular bar and grille in the DMV area. Like the first couple, she loved the city vibe of the DMV area. Having grown up in a small town, she had always been eager to leave for the city and was taking classes part time in Washington DC. The couple shared their own story of being recent graduates of a school in the Northeast that was situated in a small college town and could empathize with the 3rd passenger’s desire for more excitement in a larger metropolitan area. The 3rd passenger went on to say how she had the opportunity to go to school located in the Northeast but turned it down — her father was a professor at Williams College, a small school located in Massachusetts. The first couple nearly exploded with glee and excitement because — in the most unexpected and strangest coincidence — they had run cross country together at Williams College.
The 3rd passenger and the couple then started going back and forth with so much energy and elation that I found myself captivated by their conversation. The 3rd passenger had went to high school in Williamstown, Massachusetts and had known students as well as athletes that went to Williams College. She and the couple went back and forth sharing names of acquaintances and explaining to each other who those people were when they went to high school and what those people became when they were in college. The car ride was filled with a flurry of “Do you know this person from the soccer team?” “Did you take classes with such-and-such?” “Wasn’t this-person kind of weird?” and “How cool was this professor?” They talked about what it was like living in Williamstown and the quaintness as well as the boredom attendant to a small college town — from the sometimes dull “there’s not much to do around there” but also the comforting “it’s a cozy and charming place to be.”
And as this strange and unlikely coincidence unfolded in my car, I couldn’t help but marvel at the unlikelihood of it all. When I told the couple that, “maybe they’ll make a new friend today,” I never imagined that they would actually make a new friend! In a city with millions of people within it, what are the chances that 3 of them would be in the same ride-share on the same night? What are the chances that all 3 of them would be from the same small town in Massachusetts? And in the midst of the conversation that was unfolding behind me, I thought about all of the small events that needed to happen for this occur. If the couple had waited even 5 minutes longer to hail a ride, I might not have been their driver. If I didn’t make the wrong turn and get delayed in going to pick them up, we might have driven out of range for the 3rd passenger’s ride request and never have picked her up. And I think it’s fitting that those things went differently because could such a strange and pleasant stroke of chance ever be anything but unplanned?
It’s just incredible how the odds of fortune can work out in life sometimes.
As a ride-share driver, I have met so many couples celebrating so many events. Some couples have been married for years and are dropping off their children to college or are flying in town to visit. Some couples have been together for years, some couples have only met that very night. One couple in particular holds a unique place in my memory.
One evening, I met a young couple on a Tuesday night at 9 PM who had just gotten off work and were on their way to see a movie. A movie and film enthusiast myself, I asked them what movie they were going to see and what movies they had seen recently. They were going to see Hotel Mumbai but in the past weeks they had seen Us as well as Captain Marvel. We talked about Jordan Peele’s work in Us and Get Out. We talked about how creative, unconventional, and novel Jordan Peele’s vision and storytelling was and how in addition to his creativity he managed to interweave complex ideas and social commentary. How the “tethered” in Us was symbolic of the impact environment can have on a person’s development — the idea that we could each have our own twin who grew up to be radically different and tragically pained than we are simply because they were raised in a twisted and cruel environment. We talked about how well Jordan Peele used scenes in Get Out — how the scene where the girlfriend is eating fruitloops and milk separately illustrates how deranged and weird she is while also serving a symbolic purpose of separating “colored” fruit loops from white milk. We talked about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and how the movies have changed since they first started coming out — how later Marvel movies like Captain America: Civil War and Captain Marvel were used more to provide backstory for Avengers rather than telling the story of the heroes and heroines themselves. Compare the tie-ins and Easter eggs present in Captain Marvel and think about how Ironman, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Incredible Hulk were essentially their own stand-alone movies.
As the car ride progressed and as we discussed movies and film more and more, we laughed at how amazing it was that these films were not only able to capture our attention and capture our imagination, but also gave us a common interest to communicate to each other. That complete strangers could have such an engaging conversation spoke to how valuable movies could be in getting people to form bonds and make connections.
And that was why this couple had made it a weekly goal to go to the movies together every Tuesday night, no matter what. They both worked different hours and often times it was difficult to get their schedules to align. But despite those challenges, despite being young people dealing with the challenges of finding a career and making a living, seeing a movie every Tuesday night was their attempt at continuously and constantly making it work. If either of them — or maybe both of them — were having a tough week, they still had movie night to look forward to. If they were having a good week, they had a predetermined date night to celebrate together. If they were fighting and arguing with each other, one night every week they knew they would always have an opportunity to resolve difficult disagreements. And at their worst moments — those moments when they couldn’t even stand to speak to each other — they knew they would have the chance one night per week to sit with each other. Even if they were sitting with each other in silence for two hours, maybe at some point they would find the words to speak their true feelings and true thoughts. It wasn’t always easy to keep that Tuesday free and open in their schedule. It wasn’t always something that either of them wanted to do. It was hard to stay faithful to that commitment of a movie every Tuesday night. But they kept to it. And they kept to each other.
The message that this couple conveyed to me with their story was that relationships take work. Here was a couple that had been together for several years, and as many have undoubtedly experienced themselves, no long-lasting relationship endures without surviving arguments, fights, disagreements, and frustrations. But through it all they stayed together; they still cared for each other; they were still committed to making it work.
Glimpses of the Future
While I am picking passengers up, dropping them off, and driving place to place in between rides, I often take the time to think through thoughts and ideas — to ask myself the questions that we all struggle with, to ask myself the deep existential questions that we all must contend with. Given the circumstances of my life, I wonder what the future holds for me. I wonder what my life will be like. I wonder what kind of career I will have and what kind of profession I will find myself in. I wonder where my friends will be and what new friends I will make. But one of the most important questions I ask myself is I wonder when or even if I will ever start a family of my own.
In the midst of my musings of a future family, as I was arriving to a ride pick-up location, I was hailed down by a father holding a baby carriage. Pulling over, turning on my hazards, and putting the car in park, I greeted the father as he slowly opened the rear car door, careful and cognizant of the precious cargo in his hand. As soon as that rear car door opened, a spunky and energetic 5 year old zipped into the back seat faster than I could blink, followed slowly by her 3 year old sister who was struggling to climb into the car. With the deftness of a man with 4 hands, the father somehow managed to help his 3 year old daughter into the back seat, the strap the baby carriage in the middle of the backseat, and put both of his daughters in child-safety seat buckles while I was still processing what was happening. As I was thinking to myself, “what the hell are 2 kids and a baby doing in this car?” the family nanny hopped into the front seat with a smile, and thanked me for giving herself and the children a ride to the hotel. She explained that all of them were in Washington D.C. from Austin, TX for a wedding, and that they were in the wedding party and the 2 daughters were flower girls. Listening to her story, I began to pull away from the curb and in the most cheerful way she asked, “who’s ready for a car ride?” It took me a second to process that she was speaking to the children because in my mind, I was thinking, “Dear God, not me…”
Perhaps both new and old parents can understand, but being behind the wheel of a car containing a 5 year old, 3 year old, and 20 month old in the back seat, I have never driven a car so safely and so cautiously in my life. I never risked a single yellow light. I drove 5 miles below the speed limit. The thought of changing lanes to overtake the car ahead of me never even crossed my mind. I don’t think I even made an attempt at turning left unless I had a green arrow. Thankfully, by the grace and mercy of God, we arrived to the hotel where rooms were rented out to accommodate the guests quietly and safely. After ending the ride the nanny thanked me for getting them to the hotel, and I watched the children struggle to unbuckle themselves while their nanny slowly worked her way through the back seat helping everyone out of the car.
After wishing all of them well and steering my car back into the lonely night, in my solitude I thought about the experience in my mind and I briefly allowed myself the small pleasure of daydreaming. In my life, I feel that I have so much left I need to see and do for myself. I have so much I still feel that I need to accomplish to feel a sense of satisfaction and completeness in my life. But at the same time — at least up to this point in my life — I have lived so much of my life in solitude. And driving in that short ride — with the nanny in the passenger seat next to me and 3 children in the backseat behind me — reminded me of my own desire and my own dream for a family. It was like a glimpse into the future; a future where I was a loving father to a family that included 3 children and a caring, compassionate mother. And it forced me to ask questions of myself that I found both difficult but also encouraging: Would I be a good father? Would I be patient and kind? Would I be a good coach, mentor, and guide? Would I be loving, caring, kind, and compassionate? Would I be able to pass on what I have learned from my own life experiences? Could I pass on my most valuable gift to my own children; could I pass on the strength within my heart, my will to truth, and the power within my soul?
This experience and these questions sparked a warmth in my heart that has been becoming increasingly stony from the solitude of my own ambition. It kindled my imagination in helping me redefine what future success, satisfaction, and completeness would mean in my life. It reminded me of how valuable family was to my past and how indispensable it remained to a future that I desired for myself.
I have so much of my life to live. And I hope that I get the opportunity to live all of those days of life to the fullest. And I hope that in the process of living those days, some of those days are lived as a caring father, a loving husband, and a man of family and friends. -GP