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Keeping Death In Mind

March 10, 2010. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Late morning.

I pulled on my swim trunks, trainers, and a tank top and walked out of my little guesthouse room, sliding through the cramped restaurant strewn with tables, and out into the hot, dusty air of Phnom Penh. It's a hot day. It'll be good to swim after lifting weights.

I said, "No no, thank you" to the tuk-tuk drivers offering to take me somewhere in the city, pushed through the little crowd, and out onto the street. The streets in Cambodia more resemble alleyways than streets, and I navigate around people and vehicles.

I went down to the end of the street, turned left, and skirted along close to the local restaurants, half-tent half-storefront type places to get food. I stepped into the crosswalk, the Hotel Cambodiana rising in front of me. I check right and then left, and I watch left as I cross, watching for oncoming traffic.


Airport Stories

On Stuff in a Notebook

I'm on my way home for the first time since winter break. I'm sitting here, in an airport, waiting for my second flight to begin boarding. Most people find airports and travelling stressful (at least until they reach their destination), but I quite enjoy every aspect about it. Airports have great people watching opportunities.

I've travelled enough to know that if you miss your flight, sooner or later there's going to be another flight. On my way to Japan, my flight was cancelled because of a typhoon. I ended up spending the night in Korea. It was cool, the airlines put us up in a nice hotel, fed us an enormous amount of food, and I got an extra stamp in my passport and a great story to tell. I also know that security lines can be a pain, but if you're nice to the employees, you just might make their day. They have to deal with a lot of crabby people, after all. If the lines are really long and you end up sprinting eighty gates to catch your flight, sometimes the flight attendants are nice enough to give you a complimentary bottle of water. And if you're really lucky, your flight attendant is going to be absolutely hilarious. Every part of travelling is an adventure, so I like to relax, put myself in a corner, and watch the people walk by.

A mom holds a one year old baby, who drops his pacifier. The mom doesn't notice, so a college student wearing red Beats headphones picks it up and chases her down, and she thanks him profusely. The college student is on Spring Break, likely headed home, or to Florida, or California, or maybe to visit a friend at another school. The student turns and continues walking towards his gate, passing a businessman. The businessman is headed home after a long week at a conference in Texas. He is still wearing his suit and has his briefcase in one hand and a coffee in the other. He looks worn. He sits down next to a teenage girl in a Red Sox cap. The girl is waiting for her friends who are using the bathroom. Her friends walk up to her and together the three of them walk to get in line to board their plane. In front of them stands a man in a military uniform and his family. The man carries himself proudly, he's so young, but he's honored to be serving his country. When it is the family's turn to get tickets scanned, the young man turns to kiss his wife, whispers "I love you" into her ear, hugs his three small kids, and says "Okay, see you guys in a year." He alone has his ticket scanned, and he heads down the jet way. No one in his family is crying, they've probably been preparing for this for a while, but one of the girls behind them in line has tears in her eyes. The wife and kids turn and walk away from the gate. They pass a woman in a wheelchair being pushed by an airport employee. The woman has just spent a few days visiting her grandkids, and she is chatting with the employee about everything she's done. A young boy in a Russell Wilson jersey accidentally cuts the woman off. "I'm so sorry, excuse him," says the father of the boy, "Go Hawks!" says the old woman. The father hurries after his son who gets in line at McDonald's. Another man is leaving the McDonald's wearing a pink Dora backpack, pulling a suitcase, and holding the hand of his daughter, who holds his other daughter's hand, who holds a happy meal toy in her other hand. They are running, rushing to make their flight, and they disappear around the corner.

I don't know if they made their flight. I don't know much about any of these people in the airport. I don't really know their stories. But every one of them was interesting for the brief moments that I watched them today.

Once I was on a short-two hour flight. All I wanted to do was put in some headphones, or sleep, or read a book, but I was seated next to a talkative old man. He talked to me for the entire plane ride, takeoff to landing. He told me that he was afraid of heights (not what you want to hear from the passenger next to you). He then told me about how he had been in the military, and had jumped out of planes ("Excuse me sir, didn't you just say you were afraid of heights?"). He told me about all of his training, swim tests and such, and then about how he was selected for a specific unit or group, something like that, and about jumping out of a plane for the first time. He was really scared, he said, and his instructor basically pushed him out. When he retired he had jumped thirty seven times. As I disembarked the plane, his wife caught up to me, "I'm so sorry, he never stops talking." "No worries, ma'am, it was interesting." I never would have heard his story if I had been sleeping or listening to music.

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