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  • Lijing Cobb

Bottles of paint

My husband loves talking to strangers and find out what he could about them and through them. When we first started dating and I made the mistake of bringing him back to China with me, we would get in a taxi to go somewhere and that would be the end of me. He used me freely and shamelessly as his interpreter and pummeled the cabdriver with questions for the entire ride. Some rides were painfully long. He wanted to know anything and everything about the cabdriver, about the city he was seeing for the first time, about the country he was a stranger to. He was, and still is, that interested in everyone and everything. You could say that he is highly involved in his own life and experiences.

Yesterday we went skiing as a family for the last time of the season. As our kids all flock around my husband on the slopes because he’s the one who can, I almost always end up taking the lift by myself. One of the lifts is a 4 seater across, so I ended up on the 5 minute ride up with strangers many a time.


I imagine many people go to the slopes to hide away. We are all stuffed in bulky clothing, boots, gloves, helmets. We glide along gracefully, great. We waddle like a duck, great. We fall down, pick ourselves up, and keep going, great. Nobody cares. Mind your own business.


But on the ski lifts, when strangers share a lift up, the proximity changes the atmosphere and makes the ride up a telling experience. The younger people are reticent. They seem to be very protective of their words, and I understand that because I’ve been there and done that. At the end of my ride with those folks we know absolutely nothing about the other person. An opportunity wasted. But with older folks, it’s another story.


I rode with a woman in her 70’s. She had positioned herself in the middle of the 4 person car to sit down, only to find me appearing at her side at the last second. As she scooted over to make room for me she said with a bit of surprise, “Oh, you wanted to ride with me!” When we lowered the bar and settled into our seats for the next 5 minutes, I emulated my husband and started with, “What a beautiful day!”


And for the next 5 minutes we talked. At the end of our ride we wished each other a good time for the rest of our stay there.


I rode with a man in his 70’s. As soon as our bar lowered he started in an easy and jolly voice, “So how’s it going?” For the next 5 minutes our conversation flowed, and by the end of the ride we also wished each other a good day before we parted ways.


As the day wore on the frozen slope started to thaw and the downhill ride became a lot faster and more treacherous. In the middle of one ride down I decided to stop completely and gather my bearing before pushing on, having already fallen once and hit my head just cruising down through a relatively flat portion of the slopes. After a brief pause I started to move, but my skis wanted to go down to the ditch that I had parked myself next to instead, so there I was, in a most uncomfortable pretzel, trying to extricate myself from the skis so I could get back up from the ditch and find my lost pole. A voice called down just as I finally stood up from my struggles. Thank God I practice yoga.


“Are you ok?” An older gentleman, in his 60’s or 70’s, had stopped to pick up my pole with his pole and moved it closer to me.


“Yes I’m good. Thank you!” I smile underneath my paraphernalia.


At that moment another woman walks by in ginger little steps. “Are you ok?” The older man turns to ask her.


“I’m fine.” The woman replies without lifting her head. She’s trying not to fall on the slippery slope. “It’s just a little too steep for me, that’s all.” She trudges on.


By this time I had managed to parallel walk myself, my skis, and my one pole out of the ditch and back on the slope. The older man hands my pole back to me and asks me if I know what to do next. “Yes, I got it.” I reassure him. So he wishes me a good day, and as he moves away he leaves behind his last advice, “Skis parallel to the slope!”


On our ride back my husband regales me with one of his ride mate’s story in such details that you know their 5 minutes together were utilized to its absolute fullest.


We are in this world for a singular experience, and while some of us prefer to hold our energy within and keep to ourselves, some like to do the opposite. While some of us grow out of our cocoons and fly out, some stay. We loosen up with age, because we realize that time is running out and we’d been holding onto it like it would never end.


If you are a bottle of red paint, I’m blue, and he’s yellow, we are 3 colors on the ski lift ride for 5 minutes, an opportunity to mix our paint and make some new colors. Do we end up with our colors intact at the end, or do we get a little bit of the other colors?


I imagine that many people go to the ski slopes to hide away. It is so easy to do, because everyone looks the same in their different colored outfit, and everyone minds their own business. When I rode the lifts alone I had my bottle of blue all to myself and I had time to think that I could choose to be morose and stuck, or I could choose to reach out and mingle, forget about my woes and replace my stagnant energy. It’s so easy to pity oneself when in reality, there are so many opportunities to break out of our shells and just mingle with other colors, get a little bit richer, a little bit wiser, a little bit worldlier.


Depression is like that, right? We hide away in the bulk of our disguises, doing our own thing, fall, stand up, in a ditch, on the slope, jump, waddle. Leave me alone, I’m not here. Sip a beer on the ride up and don’t talk to the stranger next to you. “Are you ok?” “I’m fine.” “Are you sure?” “Yes I got it.”


Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone. You don’t care anyway. Walk on by, stranger, nothing to see here.


But what happens if we shake our bottle of paint loose just a bit. Open the jar and let it spill. I bet no matter what color it is, there are people in this world who will love our color. Open the jar and let it mingle with others that are out there, and see what happens when our colors combine.


What if we take each other seriously when we say, and hear, the wish for us to “have a great day”? Is it really that hard to believe that a stranger would want us to have that? Is it impossible for us to care enough about someone we’ve just met for 5 minutes to wish them a great day? Is it not likely that we can choose to believe in all this positive energy and absorb it?


If we wear our heart on our sleeve, will we hurt more or love more? Will we live more or die more? Comedians are usually some of the most depressed people in this world. Why does that have to be?

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