Posts Tagged ‘human connection’

For years I have been traveling alone, and for years I have wished that I didn’t have to. During my 20s, I had a great international travel job that took me overseas multiple times per year, to wonderful places the likes of Madrid, Paris, London, or even Costa Rica. These were fabulous opportunities and I took full advantage, exploring as much as I could while there. But yet there was always something missing and I always wished I could share it with someone.

And when it came to love, it just never worked out timing wise that I had a partner with whom to travel and share my adventures. Inevitably I was always involved with someone either too broke or disorganized to get a trip together, or I was involved with someone on the other side of the country; always finding myself in circumstances in which I would end up traveling alone. And after experiencing a string of brutal broken hearts, travel became not only lonely, but sad, as I would find myself thinking of my lost loves, everywhere I would go, thinking of the “what-ifs” and the missed opportunities.

The good news is that experience changes us and time heals all wounds. And the longer we are alone, the more we learn to embrace our solitude, the more we learn to love our own company and to become our own best friend; and the more we come to crave our time alone. That is the place in life to which I have very happily arrived. So when I have recently found myself at a crossroads, unsure of which path to take next, I knew I needed to take a soul-searching journey…and I knew I needed to do it alone.

So I set out on a road-trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, just me, my trusty stick-shift, and the radio; ready for adventure, ripe for epiphanies, and open to whatever might come…

DSCN1364My first stop along the way was at the Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, where I set out on a hike towards a waterfall. This was really my first time hiking alone and as I set out over tree stumps and craggy rocks, I contemplated the solitude, consciously taking in all of the beauty around me. I passed a pair of couples who had stopped to take a breath and were laughing amongst themselves. As is always the case when hiking, we greeted each other with a friendly “hello” and I walked by smiling to myself at their obvious enjoyment and laughter.

When I arrived to the waterfall, I scrambled up onto a rock and perched myself against a tree to eat my lunch, with the sound of water flowing in the background. I was immersed in the serenity of nature and I made note of my happiness, in spite of my solitude. As I was eating my sandwich, the two couples made their way to the falls, we greeted each other again and I offered to take their photos. We shared a few laughs and I delighted at the opportunity for human connection with complete strangers.

A few minutes later an older lady arrived on her own. I offered to take her photo as well and then we began chatting. We immediately began talking about the adventures of hiking alone, of all of the other solo hikers that you come across, and discussed how being alone presents such a great opportunity to connect with other people along the way. I was happy to connect with her in such a way and I felt proud of myself for venturing out on my own. I looked forward to whomever….or whatever… I would encounter next.

The encounter that happened next is one that would take my breath away. As I was walking down the last part of the path, almost back to the parking lot, I saw what I thought was someone’s dog, off leash, approaching me. I thought nothing of it. A few moments later, I wondered where his owners were, and realizing that there was nobody in sight, it occurred to me that it may not have been a dog at all. I heard it rustling around in the woods just to the side of me, so I stopped and cautiously peeped into the brush to take a closer look. That is when I realized that I was only a few feet away from a wild bobcat! Now, anyone that knows me, knows that I am not only a supreme animal lover, but I am also a huge lover of cats, having two kitties of my own.

My mom will tell you that as a kid, I was always the one who would stay in the petting zoo for hours, and that I had no fear at all of any of the animals. I was the kid that would constantly bring home wounded squirrels and bunny rabbits, attempting to nurse them back to health with an eye dropper. My mother was of course always worried about me getting rabies, but I never had any fear. I knew that I had a deeper connection to the animal world and that I was attuned to their energies. So when I found myself face to face with a bobcat, once again, I had no fear. This was probably a good thing, because had I been fearful, the cat would have sensed that and would likely have reacted more negatively towards me. Instead, he was cautious and moved away from me slowly, keeping his eyes locked on me the entire time.


I watched him with absolute awe and wonder, observing in him the very same behaviors that I see daily in my own cats. I admired the pointy tufts on his ears and the beautiful spots on his coat, and watched, fully captivated, as he moved gracefully and with great agility, up through the trees and brush and eventually onto the upper ledge of the hill beside me. For me this was an unforgettable moment that I will carry with me for the rest of my life; a powerful moment of connection with the natural world.

Absolutely thrilled with my magical encounter, I got back in my car and headed south down The Pacific Coast, continuing along my journey. Anyone who has ever traveled The Pacific Coast Highway knows that there is no shortage of mind-blowing, breathtaking vistas, all along the way. For that reason, one generally takes their time, pulling off to the side of the road often to take in dramatic views. At one point, while I was driving along, I saw a bunch of people pointing up at the sky. I pulled off the road to see what they were looking at. It turned out this was a prime location for spotting the great California Condor and there was a gaggle of birdwatchers, waiting patiently with their binoculars. I stopped and looked for a while, but after not spotting any, I hopped back in the car and continued on my way.

And then, there it was. As I was cruising down the highway, I looked up and saw him soaring directly overhead, a graceful, powerful Condor. Such majesty, such absolute freedom. I imagined myself flying like a bird, high above the Earth, taking it all in. I felt my spirit once again expand at the great fortune of having yet another beautiful connection with nature. Filled with amazement and gratitude, I continued on my way.

A little further along the highway, I stopped to take a picture at another fantastic vista point. And low and behold, there was the pair of couples from my first hike. We greeted each other again and this time chatted more about where we were from, where we were going, etc. I would bump into these same couples two more times over the course of my three-day journey, and each time we laughed with delight at the synchronicity; each time it confirmed for me the interconnectedness of all beings on this Earth. How wonderful it is to connect with other people, to get to know a little bit about complete strangers, reminding me once again that although I was traveling by myself, I was never alone.


After taking in another marvelous vista, I got back in my car and continued on my way, a smile on my face. I coasted around the windy, curvy highway, having an absolute blast driving my stick-shift, the windows down, the music blaring, and the wind blowing through my hair. I thought to myself, “it doesn’t get any better than this.” A few moments later, I rounded a bend, and in the turn-off to my left, I saw a man with his Great Dane. The dog was up on his hind legs and the man was dancing with him. I laughed out loud… and then my eyes filled with tears… tears of joy.

I realized in that moment that life is not about what we’ve accomplished, how much money we make, or about any of the material things we’ve amassed. It is not about whether we are alone or with another. It is about connection: connection with other human beings, connection with animals, connection with spirit. It is about living in the present moment, and taking in the beauty, the magic, and mystery that surround us at every moment. It is about the experiences that leave an indelible mark on our soul. It is about the moments that take our breath away. It is about living. And it is about dancing with your dog…

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Today I decided to have lunch down in the Marina. I will admit that I’m really not a fan of the Marina. It’s a very wealthy neighborhood of San Francisco, and I find it to be a bit snooty and ostentatious, at least for my taste. But that said, I’m always up for checking out a new neighborhood, so I went to the Chestnut Street area for the first time to check out the lunch options.

As I walked around I saw only the fanciest cars, Mercedes and Beamers everywhere. I also saw what I can only describe as a fascinating cultural phenomenon, that I call the “Modern-day Stepford Wives”. Now of course it’s 2011 and it’s San Francisco, so I live in the most liberated of times and places. But yet so many of the women in the Marina appear to be stuck in the 1950s, minus the clothes. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with anyone choosing to stay home with children. I think it’s admirable and frankly anyone that has the opportunity to do so is very fortunate. But what I find fascinating about these “Stepford Wives” of the Marina is the updated version of a very old-fashioned lifestyle. They are all pushing the “Rolls Royces” of baby carriages, many with nannies in tow so that they can wrangle with the children while Mommy does her shopping. And instead of wearing the 1950’s dress with apron, they are all wearing the latest, expensive yoga gear, showing off their tight little bottoms, thanks to their expensive personal trainers. Many of them have the same blond highlights and manicures, and gigantic, blinding diamonds to decorate their perfectly painted nails.

While I was happy to observe and take in the bizarre scenery, I decided that this was definitely not the place for me. I ducked into the local “Squat & Gobble” to grab a sandwich, and then I would get the heck out of this land that felt so foreign to me. It was just about noon and I was the first person in the joint. I looked forward to a quiet lunch of contemplation…

Not even 5 minutes later my peace and quiet was spoiled as the restaurant was invaded by multiple gaggles of mommies and their perfectly primped and seemingly spoiled children. The place quickly became a riot zone. Unruly children were screaming and running all over the place, while their mommies paid little attention and were instead engrossed in deep conversation. And I use the term “deep” loosely. I overheard the conversations next to me. One set of women were talking about their latest visit to the spa, while another set of women were talking about how poor Suzie’s husband was cheating on her. I sat there saddened; saddened by what society has become; by the obsession with accumulating the most number of material things; by the incessant need to keep up with the Jones’; by what appears to be the complete oblivion to what is really important in life.

In that moment an older gentleman sat at the table next to me. I immediately thought that he must be somebody’s Grandpa and that soon enough another group of screaming children would add to the insanity. Thankfully I was wrong. He was having lunch by himself. We immediately began to talk.

Over the next half hour I had the most wonderful conversation with this man. He was originally from New York City, but had lived in San Francisco since the 1960s. As I’m also from the northeast, we bantered back and forth about the cultural differences between east and west and we commiserated about the authenticity of people in New York City. He commented on how this neighborhood, the Marina, was so full of superficiality and how he preferred the people of New York, describing them with, “What you see is what you get.” Now, I’ve never met a New Yorker I didn’t like. This man was no exception. I chuckled to myself that he was expressing the very same thoughts that I had just had about this neighborhood. But more importantly, I loved the openness, the realness with which this man spoke. He immediately reminded me of my father. As a kid, my dad was always embarrassing us by talking to every stranger with which he came in contact. But now, as an adult, I appreciate this to be one of my dad’s best attributes. This man, like my father, had no pretense. He was who he was, and he was openly sharing and connecting with me about his life.

We talked about our careers and my recent reintroduction into the land of unemployment. I learned that he is a psychiatrist, and he talked about all of the fascinating places that he had worked over the years. We discovered that we had gone to the same graduate school, GW University, albeit 40 years apart. I pondered how different a place Washington, DC must have been when he was living there, versus when I was there in the early 2000s. I loved that although he was old enough to be my father, that we were bridging a gap across time by sharing these parallel experiences.

We then talked about our families. He told me about his children, his 2 daughters both about my age. I shared with him the fact that I was sure I’d have children by now and how my life had taken a different turn. What he told me next is what made this conversation all the more compelling. He told me that his wife is dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease…

In an instant, time and space froze around me. The women with their shallow conversation and their big diamonds suddenly seemed so irrelevant. I immediately offered my condolences to him. Without skipping a beat, he of course thanked me, but went on to clarify, “My wife is a positive person. She is an amazingly strong woman.” In that moment it was clear to me that he, and his wife, were at peace with what was happening. I could sense that he had accepted it as part of the natural cycle of life. Here was a man who has lived a full live, has had the bounty of a loving family with children, a successful career, the opportunity to experience living and traveling in different places, and now he was entering the evening of his life.

What had started out as a day observing and being disappointed by the material superficiality of our society, had turned into a beautiful opportunity to gain perspective. And I was reminded once again that life is not about who has the biggest diamond or the fanciest car. Life is about living…and dying. It is about love. It is about rich experiences. And most importantly it is about true human connections.

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