When the numbers stop counting

Shoe fence

I’m not a people person.

Back in the day, when I was a bright-eyed and insufferable twenty-something, the trouble was that I was easily annoyed – by everything. I once spoke at great length about how I hated everyone who ate soup, and I’m pretty sure I told a friend he’d need to be in a World Vision commercial – belly distended – before I’d consider lending him money.

Alcohol may have played a factor in all this, though we’ll never know if I drank too much or not nearly enough.

Whatever the case, after meeting a few thousand faces on my travels, I realized I had it all backwards. People are vulgar and sweet and kooky and electric, and they corner me so earnestly in the supermarket that I can’t help but fall in love with them.

All they want – all anybody wants – is to make a connection, to share a human moment, and they’ll chip through an entire mountain to find that single fleck of gold.

When people discover I’m Canadian, the conversation goes one of two ways. Either they tell me about a moose documentary they watched six years ago, or they ask if I know their friend Bill in Vancouver.

It would be just as relevant for them to drop to the floor in a tuck and roll, asking, “Can you do a somersault too?” But it doesn’t matter.

We stand there agreeing that snow is cold and bears are scary, and since we’re not rushed, we find – with no small wonder – that Tasmania is chilly and crocodiles are pretty frightening in their own right.

I’ve had the conversation hundreds of times, and not once has it solved the world’s problems. Or started any. The point of pointless banter is to part better, lighter, somehow less adrift in the desperate sea of humanity, and I will always have time for that.

Maybe that’s why I tolerate interrogations by people so feverish with want that they’ve forgotten how to touch someone. They walk around my bike and can only think to ask how far I cycle in a day, how fast I go and how much money I spend.

The great irony of a world that must be weighed and measured is that it will always be empty. I do my best to color it with feeling but the conversation fizzles and we walk away, alone and strange.

If I were a better man I’d know what to say. I’d turn back to offer my hand, and in it they would find the love and pity and aching need that feeds our spirit. But I don’t.

I’m not a people person.

3 responses to “When the numbers stop counting

  1. Mike, as a fellow Canuck, what’s up with us knowing everyone who lives in Canada?? Either way, love the post, and I do think that the conversation is less important then the connection, the handshake or the smile. The longer you are on the bike, you will identify with the pieces of the thousands you have met and those little pieces will change you to who you will be tomorrow (sans Canadian beer)! Safe travels, Margi

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