The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

Menu Close

Tag: intimacy

Unexpected Intimacy

It was a 11-hour flight. And I was determined to make it work this time.

I don’t do well on long flights. I tend to feel stiff and tense. Not me, but my body. Perhaps they’re one and the same. I cannot fall asleep, instead drifting endlessly between slumber and wakefulness. All this waking and sleeping makes for some lucid dreaming too. The idea of writing this also came about as a half-dream.

I was flying solo this time. Leg space was fairly good, and I managed to snag an aisle seat. My flight companion was a young light-haired boy, all skinny arms and legs and light freckles. He effortlessly squeezed past me, and settled into the window seat. I started to make myself comfortable too. Covered my knees and legs with the airline blanket, wrapped my beloved orange shawl around my shoulders, slipped on the eye mask… resolved to SLEEP. I also took a tablet of Jatamansi, a nerve relaxant herb that has helped me with sleep in the past.

It seemed to work. Six hours drifted by. I felt like I was awake but I must have been asleep. Is that odd? Sleep is a mysterious state, and it is hard to pinpoint where exactly you are in it.

A couple of hours or so later, I felt a nudge on my shoulder. My young friend had fallen asleep, resting his upper body on the arm rest between us, legs curled up. I was sitting up, my seat slightly reclined, and his shoulder brushed against mine. In a couple of minutes, I had fallen back into my wakeful-sleep mode. A little (or lot — who knows?) later, I straightened up, my knee bumping against his. I awoke to find him snuggled on the other side, knees drawn to his chest, pretzel-like. He was a slender contortionist, this young fellow. As I pulled my legs up, deciding to sleep on my side, my feet pushed against his body. The cabin was cold, and I felt a gentle warmth radiating from him.

All night long, we kept wriggling around in our respective spaces, trying to get comfortable without disturbing the other. My friend kept squeezing his lithe body into all kinds of semi-circular formations, and I tried to get somewhat comfortable so I could get some sleep… and through these mutual efforts, our bodies connected. He was scarcely awake (seemed to be a light sleeper) and I was all adrift too. I found this strange intimacy oddly comfortable.

Perhaps it was his youth that made him so unselfconscious and free with his body, an utter lack of physical awkwardness. He stepped in and out of my space with absolute comfort and ease, and even though I wasn’t all awake, I was charmed.

Locking Eyes

This evening, as I drove home from work, I passed a white van. “State Prisoners” was inscribed prominently on the front and back. I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen a vehicle of this kind. I wondered if it was actually transporting any prisoners.

I got a little ahead, and looked again. There were two men inside, dressed in white. One was middle-aged and white, looking out at the traffic. Behind him sat a young, handsome black guy wearing a headset. He had large eyes and thick eyebrows, a prominent nose. And he looked straight at me.

I couldn’t look away. I had sunglasses on, so I felt somewhat comfortable looking right back. His gaze didn’t waver. Neither did mine.

The van moved ahead, and I kept pace with it.

Again we drew level, and I found him looking at me. I returned the gaze.

The traffic moved swiftly, and the van sped forward. I fell back, and lost my place in the traffic.

I prayed silently, let me catch up with him again. I removed my sunglasses.

The traffic continued to flow forward, and again I caught up with the van. There was a lane separating our two vehicles, but there were few cars, and I was able to look right at him. He looked back at me. He had a direct and open expression. It wasn’t unfriendly. There was no question in his eyes, or any curiosity. It was a clear, simple look. And I was able to reciprocate the simplicity.

It felt special, this brief interaction. Later I wondered, should I have smiled? Given a thumbs-up, a tiny wave, perhaps?

In hindsight, I am happy that I did nothing to spoil the moment.

Not for a single instant did I “feel sorry” for the young handsome man. Neither did I feel intimidated locking eyes with him. (I am not always comfortable looking into another’s eyes; it feels too direct for my comfort.)

What did I hope to convey? That I was sympathetic? That I hoped things would improve for him? Or did I mean to send a blessing?

None of the above, actually. I was caught in a brief moment of sharing, and I was able to participate fully. And I came away from that interaction, feeling strangely intimate and connected.