The Passenger Seat of a Stranger’s Generosity
I became absorbed in their stories and genuine reactions poured out of me, giving them the strength to say more. And why wouldn’t they? For a quiet knowledge sat between us: we would never meet again.
Ireland, Western Europe
Story by Caoimhe Ní Shúilleabháin. Edited by Stéphanie Hamel
Published on March 25, 2021. Reading time: 4 minutes
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Each vehicle had its own essence—its own aroma, litter of personal items, noise and feel. Sitting into the passenger seat, I knew I was entering the driver’s own particular space, their little world. It would almost always take a moment or two for us all to get used to the new arrangement. Then, in typical human fashion, we’d start to send out feelers for connection in any way we knew. Some drivers began with questions that stumbled into a rush of curiosity. Others let the silence sit a while before offering a comment on the passing landscape. Still, others needed no words at all: a few sidelong glances and the odd nod went far enough. I moved to the rhythm they set, comforted by their own sense of comfort. Everyone thawed to familiarity in their own way.
In my first year of college, I hitchhiked across Europe twice. From The Hague, we went south towards Marseille and east towards Prague. Myself and another young woman hurtled through the lives of over 25 strangers in but a few days. In the front of a lorry transporting pumpkins from Granada to Prague, I felt the strength and patience of a bond between two old Czech drivers taking turns at the wheel. I bore witness to the heartache of a French-Senegalese woman whose partner was denied entry to Europe whilst she herself could not afford to leave. The endless road gave me space to understand what their own words meant to them. I became absorbed in their stories and genuine reactions poured out of me, giving them the strength to say more. Why wouldn’t they? For a quiet knowledge sat between us: we would never meet again. Social pressure and expectations slipped from our shoulders with great relief.
After every trip, I tucked away another morsel of knowledge about the human species and how we talk to one another.
Many of the people that picked us up had never stopped for hitch-hikers before. There was a nervous, uncomfortable twist to their voice as they told us so. I never knew how this new experience grew in them afterwards. Hitch-hiking is a striking exchange between strangers but there is no follow-up service. I was given a lift out of a godforsaken petrol stop on a soulless highway and they got fresh company for a lonely or boring commute. Beyond that, we were free to make of it what we would. After every trip, I tucked away another morsel of knowledge about the human species and how we talk to one another. The more kinds of people I know, the more kinds of talk I know. This is crucial information for the student of World Politics that I am because generally, politicians are not very good at talking to one another. Empathy is shoved aside for polarizing labels and generosity is forgotten in the throes of egotistic self-checking.
Watching dawn spill life into a new day while speeding along in a stranger’s pick-up truck, I remembered these virtues, was filled with a shocking love for them. All at once, I recognised the sigh they breathed out as the morning blossomed - it sounded just like mine. Bless generosity, thank God for empathy. So, let the politicians sit for hours on a motorway and then jump for joy when that leftie hippie or right-wing red-neck gives them a passenger seat to better things.
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