Saturday, January 03, 2015

Life Stories

On our way back from Yosemite to Merced, we overheard a very interesting conversation between the bus driver and an old lady seated right behind him. We were the last few passengers in the bus and it created an odd sense of intimacy. It was cold and dark outside and we could have been by a figurative fireplace inside having a conversation with friends except that we were all strangers to each other. The bus driver in a past life had been an industrial engineer, His job involved getting more hours out of the workers and identifying the least productive ones for potential downsizing. He made good money while his friends in the factory suffered more and more each year. This was before their jobs were outsourced to China and the factories themselves closed. You could tell he had many conflicted feelings about that time and not everything had been sorted out yet. Had he helped save the factory workers their jobs for a few more years ? Was he helping the greater good by letting go a few so the rest could still stay ? Or was he part of the destructive process and profited unfairly from it ?

He talked about the moral dilemma of doing what he did for a living and how at one point he decided to leave all that behind him and follow his passion - driving. So now he drives tourists back and forth between Yosemite and the train station at Merced. A series of life events brought him to California and he decided to stay back and drive for a living. It is a job that allows his conscience to rest in peace. The old lady was talking about Alzheimer's in her family.An older sister was already suffering and she herself was beginning to show early signs. The bus driver's mother-in-law was in a facility for Alzheimer patients and he said it was a very hard decision for the family to make. 

The shared experience had created a bond between two people who would likely never run into each other again. We heard them share their views on politics, technology and the relationships. There was much I had in common with them and that felt oddly exhilarating. I did not want to interrupt their conversation and yet I was a part of it by shared ideas. It was lucky happenstance to hear about their life experiences, learn about leaving the grind behind (no matter how well paid) to pursue simple goals much closer to the heart. These are my ideas too (in theory) but I always wonder if it is possible in reality. And if I will know what my dream job is well in time to go find it.For this man the choice seemed so obvious. 

The old lady was making arrangements so that her children would not have to make morally difficult decisions on her behalf. In the meanwhile she was living each day like it mattered. A lot like E planning her travels a year in advance to make sure she checked things off her bucket list as time passed. While our time in Yosemite was all too short and immensely memorable, this conversation made our journey unforgettable. This will stay with me for years. As far as Yosemite goes, I cannot think of any better way to remember what I saw than the Ansel Adams pictures that I first encountered as a kid growing up in India. Even the grand reality of the place does not diminish the haunting beauty of those images in any way.  My uncle, a serious photographer, used to show us the work of Ansel Adams as the standard to aspire for. He mainly shot monochrome and nature doing most of the dark room work with his friend who was a professional photographer.

Back at dinner at C's home where we were invited as E's friends, I met some memorable people too. C is an affluent widow and was clearly in love with her deceased husband. It was heartwarming to see her reminiscence about him, random things triggering happy memories all evening. None of them had to do with material things - they only spoke of the great friendship they must have shared. She was mourning the loss of a lover and best friend. If I had to take away one thing about C it would be gratitude - she appreciates the blessings in her life a great deal. Maybe that is the character defining quality that gave C what she has in her life. The other woman I met there was a university professor and enjoyed gambling more than just a little. Her travels had taken her around the world - specially the far east where she had lived for many years. Her understanding of eastern religions and cultures made her easy to relate to even when our lifestyles were very different. There was also a young couple who looked like they were playing house - not quite a serious marriage yet. When the passage of time brings a couple closer together then they can have a marriage like C's. When I looked at this "perfect" young couple that seemed have everything just right it made me wonder how they may look forty years out.

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