How many of you are old enough to member the song “Who Are the People In Your Neighborhood” that was on Sesame Street years go?
And how many of you remember a movie from 2001 named K-PAX, in which Kevin Spacey plays the role of Prot, a patient at a mental hospital who claims to be from a distant planet by the name of K-PAX? When the movie ends, the viewer is not sure if Prot is crazy or an actual extraterrestrial.
Both of these ideas coalesced in an unusual way as I rode a bus into downtown Calgary at 6:45 this morning when a man not dissimilar to Kevin Spacey sat down beside me.
After a few minutes and as a commuter deposited her fare into the fare box, this man looked at her, looked at me and said, quite matter-of-factly, “I am surprised that you still use money”.
In the wee hours of a commute into the city, I wasn’t sure how to respond so I took the most logical choice possible and one typical of a commuter.
I didn’t say anything.
My choice of playing it safe was met with a question: “Why do you think that is?”
Realizing that being the quiet commuter minding my own business wasn’t going to work, I replied, “Why do I think what is?”. Ooops .. did that sound too snappy?
“Why are you still using money?”
Not knowing if the guy was pulling my leg, looking to start a fight with a businessman representing “the system” or was experiencing a personal malfunction in some way, I responded with a comment along the lines of “What else would we use?”
What ensued in the next 30 minutes or so was an unusual conversation, freely and easily shifting subjects between money and poverty, faith and faithlessness, abundance and scarcity and love and war.
He was disarmingly easy to engage, informed, logical and insightful and I found the conversation to be intriguing and stimulating. He had a gaze that was a little unusual – there was a fire burning inside his mind that was compelling to engage with and his eyes were the type that bore right through you.
Of all the subjects we covered, there were two things that stood out in our conversation.
At one point in the conversation, I noticed he used the “royal we” and the “royal you”, seeming to differentiate between two societies, his and mine. There was a suggestion that “we” had figured it out while “you” would figure it out soon enough but not until “you” were forced to. But, as he pointed out at one point, “we’re always around to help if you need it”.
Before I could ask what he meant by that, he signaled the bus driver that he wanted to get off at the next stop. As he stood up, he looked at me and thanked me for the conversation. He then said “You’ll find Calgary very interesting compared to New York”, wished me a good day and exited the bus.
As he left, I thought, “What made him make the connection between me and my many years in New York?”. I don’t have a New York accent. I didn’t mention it once in our interaction nor do I use my cellphone on the bus where someone could glean my background by overhearing a conversation or reading something over my shoulder.
“Weird”, I thought and shrugged it off.
I didn’t give it much thought until returning home on the bus this evening and he came to mind.
As I replayed our conversation in my mind, it seemed that he was suggesting that he was from a superior race to mine but at some point we would have an opportunity to catch up or learn something from them.
The chances are much better that I had entertained a delusional or lonely person, perhaps with a prescription that needed to be refilled or a hunger for companionship.
I mean, if we were to be contacted by “someone” from “somewhere else”, wouldn’t it be with fireworks, brass bands and gift exchanges on the White House lawn (assuming they came in peace)?
Isn’t that the way galactic diplomacy is done?
Then I thought about something else.
Whether or not he was who he was implying to be is not important.
What is important is that in that brief 30 minutes, he challenged my way of thinking and my perception of things that we don’t put enough attention into in the course of our busy day-to-day existence.
Which reminds me that the simple and the mundane all around us can provide triggers to higher levels of thinking, thinking that can produce solutions to many of our societal challenges if we allow our minds to go where they need to go.
Or if we allow our minds to be guided as mine was today.
So was I sharing a seat with Prot who beamed back to K-PAX after leaving the bus or was I sharing time with a sad, lonely person trying to fit into our world?
Does it really matter or is it more important to consider the gift of the exchange itself, an exchange that I found enjoyable, thought-provoking and stimulating?
I think it is better to accept the gift that is offered instead of wondering about the motive of the bearer of that gift.
What do you think?
In service and servanthood,