I met a man on a plane recently.
A man on the way to his hometown of Nashville. We sat next to each other, and even though I needed to get work done and put in earplugs, he wanted to start up a conversation. He was in his late twenties, with long hair pulled into a bun, and a scraggly beard to match.
He was nervous, about going home. Worried because he would be returning home after three and a half years being away from it. He lived in Sydney at the moment, but he began recounting his tales of world travel. This is what got me intrigued. He had decided after completing his bachelors and was starting his masters that he wanted a different life for himself, and his girlfriend agreed, so they took off to teach English on the other side of the world. Moving around from place to place, using the teaching gig as a mechanism to explore parts unknown. To be honest, it sounded fun. They lived a simple life, were able to afford what they wanted, but lived within their means, and they picked up skills along the way. Thirty countries he mentioned, thirty countries he had traveled through hitting countless cities and villages along the way. He had been able to experience all sorts of different cultures, and he told me how he had learned from each one of them.
I sat there sharing my own experiences but mostly listening to what he had to say. We talked about the fact I am doing my masters and why he felt that his original dream to get his Ph.D. fell by the wayside for this new dream. It was an exciting talk, and once the flight was over, we went our separate ways.
The talk stuck with me, I thought about it the long ride to the place I would be staying for the wedding the next day. I think the reason be, is that his life was my back up plan for if the whole academia thing didn’t work out. What my life could be like if I had thought academia wasn’t for me or if academia thought I wasn’t for them. I was the idea that I would go about the world, learning and growing from all the lessons it had to offer. Meeting new people and having new experiences and deciding where to be one month at a time. His life had a sort of appeal to it, an excitement, an adventurous spirit that I feel within myself too. For a moment, I really wondered if I could still grasp it.
After our talk and the plane began to unload we went our separate ways, It was then I realized I never even knew his name, we hadn’t exchanged on the plane. Maybe that’s okay, be what he represents now is a different life, a different path for me. This is not to say that this path might not converge with the path I am on but I found the path I will be following. I still want to travel more and see the world, and my choice to go into academia isn’t going to change that. It was nice to see that either path I could have taken, I might have been happy, which is good enough for me.
So to the perfect stranger, I met on the plane, I hope you live a full and rewarding life, maybe I’ll see you again one day and find out how it turned out.