Last night, I saw the edge of the world. Or rather, it was more like this morning while I was still in dreamland. There was a fence separating myself and others from the emptiness. It wasn’t a chain-link fence or picket fence… it was more like the barricades you see on the highway, but they were stacked on top of each other. There was plenty of room to see through, or to fall through. The fence was taller than I was, but I could easily climb it. I was tempted to climb and then peer down into the abyss, but I was way too afraid of falling in. Past the edge of the world was pure nothingness in all directions. There was no sky above, just blackness. No ground below, just blackness. Nothingness as far as the eye could see.
I woke up troubled. I couldn’t figure out what it all meant. I was distressed, re-imagining that nothingness. In fact, even as I climbed aboard BART, I had trouble concentrating on my book.
When you commute via BART five times a week, you begin to remember faces. Today, a man sat by me. I’d seen him before. Maybe he’d even sat by me before. I decided to continue my reading. Typical BART etiquette I’ve noticed means you don’t have to acknowledge anyone. Not that I’m saying you’re supposed to ignore people, but you’re not obligated to become the best buddy of anyone sitting next to you and strike up a riveting conversation.
My shyness and quietness has decreased in the past two years. I’m no longer intimidated by random strangers. Actually, I really really enjoy meeting new people. It’s what you do afterwards that gives me more trouble. I have no trouble meeting people, but I still have trouble making friends. One day, I caught someone on BART trying to glance at my book — I was working on Thomas Paine at the time. I instantly opened up and let him look at the entire book, explaining the premise of Rights of Man.
So while I had no intention of talking to the man who sat next to me today, as soon as he said, “You still havenâ€™t finished that book,” I had no qualms with instantly starting a conversation.
â€Well, itâ€™s got a little bit of length to it,â€ I replied. I gave a prÃ©cis of the Marshall Plan, explaining it was how America rebuilt Europe after WWII. In retrospect, Iâ€™m surprised how quickly I become comfortable when talking with complete strangers. As soon as we begin to talk, youâ€™re no longer a stranger. I know you.
It also helps when the person has a lot of interesting things to say. Iâ€™ve neglected so far to provide a physical description of the person. Middle-aged black man, if you want the easy label to attach. While talking about the diversity of races, I mention that I myself am mixed and heâ€™s got some mixed blood too. His hair isnâ€™t nappy, which is due to the Native American blood in him.
We start with history, though, since Iâ€™m obviously interested in history if Iâ€™m reading about the Marshall Plan. Did you know that Crispus Attucks, a black man, was the first casualty of the American Revolution? Honestly, the way we do Black History Month is a joke. He tells me about certain inventions. I tell him that if you watch TV, the only thing black people invented are peanut butter and the stoplight. We both get a good laugh out of that.
I get a little bit of his history. He tells me he was a multi-millionaire at one point, which he inherited. He was miserable, though. Money is the root of all evil, he says, but then corrects himself: The love of money is the root of all evil, so says the Bible. Heâ€™d rather have peace, which he has now, than money and being miserable. You hear it all the time that money canâ€™t buy happiness, but to be honest, I never really believed it. I take his message to heart, though, because quite frankly, I see the sin within myself. I could easily see myself becoming devoted to money in my quest.
I donâ€™t believe in the idea of a Golden Path. I believe God gave us free will so that we could forge our own destinies. So this next sentiment comes as a surprise even to myself: I donâ€™t think it was a coincidence that I met him. Writing it down like this makes the sentiment feel even sillier, but itâ€™s how I feel. Because in the beginning of the morning I was troubled, and then after I talked to him, I felt at peace. Perhaps Iâ€™ll lose you with this next bit of speculation. You know I have aspirations to become president. It will be a long arduous path. I donâ€™t presume to take this as fact, but I wonderâ€¦ I believe I need to surround myself with people who will keep me from the path of sin and demagoguery and I wonderâ€¦ if there isnâ€™t something out there helping me out. Still, life is full of surprises, and I could go down some completely different path. Iâ€™m a young man and the possibilities are still wide open.
Minister Casey got off at a stop before me. As I was walking to class, I suddenly realized that I hadnâ€™t given him my name. Thatâ€™s okay, I think, Iâ€™ll tell him tomorrow. But tomorrowâ€™s Saturday. So, I really hope I see him again this Monday. I want him to know my name. Itâ€™s a strange lapse for me, who was a name-collector last year in college. I feel like thereâ€™s more to learn from him.
â€Keep readingâ€ is the last thing he says to me, I think.
Later on, though, I ponder about how he probably doesnâ€™t realize Iâ€™m a Republican. Does that mean Iâ€™m dishonest, or my views can appeal to a wide variety of people? Perhaps itâ€™s that I choose which views to present to people. I truly do believe Iraq is a fiasco, though (and even you may be surprised at that latest admission from meâ€¦ more on that later), and democracy can only come from within and will happen over a long, long time. So if I told him so, I havenâ€™t been misrepresenting myself right? Really, though, itâ€™s hard to disagree with people politically when you hardly know them. But I donâ€™t want to disagree from the get-go. I want to listen. I really want to listen. But I wonder if thereâ€™s some inner greasy politician within me.
At this point, Iâ€™m rambling, but I feel it was important to get these particular thoughts out at this particular time. Itâ€™s a snapshot of a seemingly un-extraordinary day in my life that I have decided to imbue with meaning.