I was sitting in Los Angeles International Airport at a table within a bar with my laptop open writing away when a beyond handsome man approached and asked me what I was working on in the most delicious accent I have ever heard. With eyes the color of sapphires and graying temples, he offered me a beer. (I did a double take. I was not sure he was talking to me, but there was no one else around in the bar in the middle of the afternoon.) I said sure. I had a three hour layover and was working on an essay. I was writing about the auditorium stage being set on fire during my first year of teaching high school drama. I stopped writing and launched into the story when he asked. I told him about my book and winding up in DC after graduate school. He listened. Even his smile had an extreme swagger.
I was enthralled by his story. He was on his way to visit Panama. He had lived all over the world after college, and eventually landed in Panama brokering teak wood deals between companies in Switzerland and India. He had moved home to New Zealand to work in the family sheep business. His family owned a sheep farm with 3,000 sheep outside of Christchurch. They were in the middle of converting their farm from sheep to dairy. He was about a year into the conversion. He had returned to help his family. It was important for him to be home. He described New Zealand with a passion I could feel in my bones. He was the only son. He had two sisters, but the fact he was the only son weighed on him. He could not let his family down during this time.
He had never really been to the United States. He had especially never really been to Kentucky, the state of my birth. I told him about rolling hills and bluegrass. I told him about horses in springtime. I told him about my nieces and my grandmothers. He asked me about Kentucky Fried Chicken. I told him Washington, DC was about an 11 hour drive from Louisville, and that I made it home every couple months, especially on holidays.
After several hours of sharing our stories, he asked me if I owned my home. I told him I rented an apartment in Northwest Washington, DC. He asked me if I thought I would ever buy a home. Did I ever ever see myself settling down? If I did buy a home, would it have to be by my family? It all boiled down to finding out my definition of home. He wanted to know if I was a buyer in life or a renter. Would I ever settle down? As someone who had lived across the far reaches of the planet, he seemed to understand my renter’s impulse. He did not judge me for my choices.
I had never really thought about it before. I had always assumed I would own a home someday. I had never really thought about renting as a conscious choice. The idea that we can be renters in life, simply drinking in opportunity after opportunity and loving the hell out of the ride always seemed like a Peter Pan sort of option. Could it possible to be a grown up, well adjusted, connected-to-people wanderer? What would that look like? How does family fit into that picture? He made me think. He had obviously decided to settle down at home in New Zealand near his family. I stated my belief that I would settle down at some point, too.
I almost missed my flight that afternoon. I did not want our conversation to end. The ticket agent graciously left the door open a few extra seconds as I hugged the Kiwi sheep farmer who taught me about home.
Dinner With Strangers: I have eaten dinner with strangers many times over the last twenty or so years. I believe we can learn from one another. I believe in the power of story. I believe in messages and angels. I have befriended. I have cried. I have flirted. I have ignored. I have argued. I have listened. I have collected stories.