January 8th, 2007

Can't We All Just Get Along? (Short Answer--Nope)

One of the best things about my work—maybe the best thing about my work—is that I’m always meeting new people. This is good for several reasons:


  1. It helps me refine ever further what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in a conversation, an attitude, and a personality.
  2. Even if I end up not particularly liking an interview subject, the interview is very unlikely to be boring.
  3. More often than not, I leave an interview infused with a sensation of “We’re all in this together.” Which is a pretty comforting sensation. Because life is hard! But when you’re struggling alongside everyone else, it makes things seem kinda that much better.

So today was a day that brought Reason Number 3 For Liking My Work home to me.


I had phoned this married couple to arrange an interview with them about their volunteer activities at the Orange Police Department. When I first called them, the husband didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about the prospect of meeting with me. (Go figure!)


So I was taken completely by surprise at my very, very warm welcome. And I was even more surprised at how instantly comfortable I felt with them. (You know how that is sometimes? You just meet someone and like that person immediately. Or, as is more often the case for me, vice versa. [Well, you can’t like everybody, now, can you?]) We chatted about their camel collection (!) and their lighthouse collection (I also have a lighthouse collection. Like them, I did not initiate this collection. But once people find out you like something, the gifts start flooding in). Then it turned out that they’d just adopted a career change guide dog puppy (an unwillingness to work got her evicted from the training program)—and it just so happens I’m working on a story about career change dogs.


Sure, they’re more than twice my age (their kids are older than I am), but we had all kinds of stuff in common.


To top it off, it turned out that I know their son—not personally, but he’s so famous in extreme sports circles that even I have heard of him. In fact, I think I interviewed him once.


And that’s when our exceedingly pleasant conversation took a turn.


“Is his sister jealous of his fame?” I asked jokingly.


Well, it turns out that this couple’s daughter is estranged from the family. They didn’t offer details, and I didn’t ask, but the mom did say sadly, “You just never can tell how things are going to turn out.”


It’s long been my opinion that all families are dysfunctional—it’s just a question of how distantly related your particular dysfunction is. (For more along these lines, please see my theory that normalcy is nonexistent, entry before last.) Which theory I shared with them. And they responded with an even more dramatic example from a friend’s family. It didn’t feel weird, virtual strangers sharing their very personal pain with me. It felt like two hurt people talking to a person who understands hurt. (Another theory: we all fit into both of those categories.)


All this caused me to hop on a train of thought that often meanders through my mind: we are all in this together, we are all struggling to live happy lives—so why is it that so many of us spend so much time trying to screw everyone else over? It’s like littering at the beach: every soda can you throw into the water just makes the sea less enticing for the rest of the world--as well as for yourself. But there’s nothing we can do about it—just pick up the litter we come across as best we can, I guess, and try to leave a clean path in our wake. (Maybe I should have saved this entry for Earth Day. Ah, well.)

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