One thing about teaching is that you meet a lot of young people, know them briefly for several months to varying degrees, and then they’re generally gone. I remember being on a Penticton beach during summer break enjoying a sunny day with my young family and then I heard that unexpected voice that sometimes conjures fear in teachers–“Hi, Mr. Davies!” Well, so much for privacy and the inimitable workings of process, quite independently of oneself. I used to be stopped in many different places–on parking lots, in grocery stores, in farmers’ markets, at the theatre, at the symphony, etc. But not as much of late as many of the kids I used to teach turn anywhere from 61 to 28. And last Saturday one found me, stepping fatedly out of the mists at 7/11 when I went, as I am wont to do, to buy the two T.O. weekend papers.
He was simply a big, friendly-looking guy wearing an Edmonton Esks shirt. So I was surprised when he waited and held open the door for me–untypical polite behavior from a 40ish sports fan. “Excuse me sir, did you used to be a teacher?” “Where did you teach?”
And so it unfolded. B. turned out to be as nice, friendly, and curious about my intervening years since 1993 when I apparently taught him, and then he opened up about the big event of his life–as an oil worker in 1999 Ecuador where he was captured and force-marched by terrorists through the jungle for over three months. An amazing story as the media tells it, too. A nice kid from Scona who encountered terrorism up-close-and-personal over a decade before ISIS came to the world’s attention, a young guy who survived until the ransom was generously paid by the U.S. (this doesn’t happen much anymore) before the banditos starting killing them one at a time as they threatened.
It was clear his adult life had been defined and changed forever by that significant media news story somewhere off in the malaria-ed jungles where most of our morning bananas come from. He spoke of his fear of going to Mexico these daze and was amazed at other oil workers who continue to travel to dangerous places in South America, sometimes living in windowless compounds the size of that 7/11, wearing bullet-proof vests. But somehow, B. had remained intact and he laughed a number of times as I commented how ironic and absurd the world was–something he easily concurred with based on his near-tragic, near-fatal interlude of extreme fear.
He shook my hands enthusiastically three separate times–he was very happy to see me after all these years, and I told him I was really glad he had ‘made it’ and that he was obviously a good guy. Although he lives on the north side of town now, he was back that morning on the south side, stopping at 7/11, possibly on his way–I figured out–to his parents (he didn’t speak of having a wife or family of his own). A chance meeting–he had brought the world to me that morning, a distant world that one only typically reads about or sees on t.v.
“What are the odds?” I ask myself when these sorts of dramatic moments occur in an otherwise peaceful life these daze. And I continue to go with the flow of processes apparently separate from, but periodically interwoven with my own. I was witness to another’s story and it worked for him positively as much as it did for me–reopening my eyes to how close we all are and sometimes remain despite the upheavals of time and geographical separation. It, too, was a matter of the significant past come to bear unexpectedly on the flow of the placid present in a memorable, unforgettable way. An important, necessary contact had occurred when and where least expected.
We parted to carry on with our biz and I picked up my papers, ironically, with the latest news on the Parliament killer and ISIS on the front pages. But I shall likely never peel another Ecuador banana for breakfast in the dead of incoming winter without remembering that powerful one-time human contact with one of the many good kids I used to be fortunate enough to teach at Strathcona High School in a galaxy far, far away.