Sunday, August 14, 2011

Some perks of being a young traveler

About four weeks have passed since my Jewish studies program near Los Angeles ended. Since then, I have spent two weeks in Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks, as well as two weeks in San Francisco. In just this short time, I have encountered so many people who have given to me for no "rational" reason.

Let me start near the beginning. While I was on the second half of The Narrows, a famous water trail in Zion National Park, with my friends Andrew, Liron, and Shimri, we started talking with a middle-aged guy, Marc, and his teenage son. Marc took particular interest in Liron and Shimri, since they come from Israel, which is where Marc, a Mormon, spent some fond childhood years. After a bit of chat, we learned that Marc, in addition to owning a multi-million-dollar business, is a record-setting pilot (for his transcontinental flight across the USA). By the end of the hike, we had received an invitation to come later in the week to ride in his helicopter. The Israelis were practically jumping with joy at this opportunity, while Andrew and I, the two skeptical Americans, were just a tad more ambivalent (though excited, too, of course!). We told Marc that we'd figure out the details and contact him in a few days. Later that day, when it was just the four of us, we decided that we just had to take this opportunity; after all, how often do search-and-rescue pilots offer near-strangers free helicopter rides? 

Though it was out of "our way" by about six hours roundtrip, we drove to visit Marc and his family later that week. Marc's father, who was a Mormon missionary in Israel, gave us each a beautiful Prayer for the Traveler. While my friends were up in the helicopter (the second ride, which I opted out of to give one of my Israeli friends a second turn), the father delighted me with ticklish stories of his time in the Middle East. Marc's mother and wife were equally as endearing. When we finished with the helicopter rides, they took us to a nice Mexican lunch spot and refused to let us pay. When we parted, I told Marc and his wife that I aspired to be generous like them; they told me that I would be.

And then there was the cashier at the supermarket in Yosemite National Park who was so happy to have a Ukrainian Jew (my friend Yuliy) come through her lane that she invited all of us to come receive her hospitality in the employee village when she got off of her shift at 10PM. We had not showered in about a week, so her offer was enthusiastically received by us. After waiting outside for Lauren (that was her name), we got to take some of the most delicious showers of our lives! Then a bit later, her boyfriend and a friend took us to explore the "Indian Caves." Though we were exhausted from a ten mile hike that day, it was incredible to be with such warm-hearted people at 2am in such a chilly, tiny rock space. In this space, we each got to sign the notebook, which lists all of the people who have squeezed their bodies through the rocks to make it there. When we climbed out of the caves, the three of them helped us find a safe place by the rocks to sleep; snuggling in my sleeping bag in a cozy rock space under the stars was one of the most perfect spots to sleep. 

And I can't forget Dawn, the cherubic mid-20s woman we asked directions from upon arriving in Berkeley (an enclave over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco) who decided to not only find us a cab, but to pay the fare as well! "It's cheaper than having you all pay for the bus," she insisted before running off. 

And then today there were Medina and Anton, two Kyrgyzstanis who are friends with Yuliy, the Ukrainian peep I mentioned above. Though I just met them today, they insisted on taking Yuliy and me to dinner. And let me tell you, it was not "just dinner"! It was the Gold Boat (sushi), complimented by a bottle of white wine. 

There are other instances of generosity I could cite, but hopefully I got my point across. People have been just incredible to us without expecting anything in return. 

I try to take moments in the day to forget about what I am expecting to happen next, and to look up at the sky and acknowledge the abundance in my life. But sometimes it feels like this is just part of what I need to be doing, like what I must really do if I am grateful is stand on the other side and give to others. And the important thing is that giving does not necessarily have to involve rides in fancy vehicles or $80 meals, but rather an unexpected gift to surprised recipients that keeps people believing in human goodness. 

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