I got home from a PZI 7-day retreat Byron SHadow chair girl croppedyesterday.  I felt sad, wallowing a bit in the special kind of grief I often feel at the end of a retreat. Stepping off the plane into sharp winter Virginia air, it felt like I was being thrust into a foreign country. Surely people will not understand me here, I thought. I do not belong.

As I looked for my car in the airport parking lot, I wondered if there was someone I could bum a cigarette from. I don’t usually smoke, but there’s something I like about having a cigarette or two after retreat. I peered over at the ashtrays and by where the taxis park. I glanced furtively at anyone I saw, looking for a telltale puff of smoke or a thin white stick protruding from a hand. Nothing. I gave up and went to find my car.

PortraitI wandered over to the long-term parking lot and, lo and behold, I saw a guy in a Charlottesville Airport uniform smoking a cigarette. Late 40s, mustache. I held up two quarters and said, “Excuse me, could I buy a cigarette from you?” He turned around, smiled, deftly pulled a Marlboro halfway out of his pack and said, “No man, you don’t have to pay for it.”

As we were smoking, I asked him what he did at the airport. He said, “You mean what I don’t do! I help people. I’m all over the place, fixing things, carrying things. I like to think I help people out. I just do whatever needs to be done.”

I said, “In the Buddhist traditions, they call those people bodhisattvas.”

He nods, “Yep, that’s me.”
He seemed like a pretty straightforward guy. Competent, quick, handy.
I said, “It’s good to have a job where youCantaloupe feel like you’re helping, isn’t it?” He nodded vigorously. “You hang out in an airport for any length of time and you’re bound to run into all kinds of people that need help. I’ll see someone come in the front door, some older person or someone struggling around, and I just see their entire life story, right there–I know who they are and I go help them. What do you need? Sometimes I’m hanging art or putting together sculpture installations, and man, working with artists…”

I laugh and nod. Yeah. Artists. I know.

country road“But I just try to smile and be helpful. Cause you know, everyone’s got problems, I got all kinds of problems in my life. But when you help someone, that stuff always comes back around. It may not come back like, you help someone with their luggage and they give you a $20 bill, but maybe it comes around in some other form.”

I say, “Yeah, like you step out your front door and it’s a beautiful sunny day. All for me!” I’m surprised when he seems excited at that idea. He grins and exclaims, “Yeah!”

 Just then his radio babbles something. We shake hands, exchange names, and he goes running up the stairs.
I think, maybe this could be home after all.

Image credits
Child in the dark photo, Byron Young (it’s on his Facebook page somewheres)
Cantaloupe photo, Sandra Cardin
Miner spreads his lunch out photo (1974), National Archives

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