“Where are you from?” It’s usually the first question I ask when I meet someone new. I was once told that in some cultures it is rude to ask this; it hasn’t stopped me yet. But it’s not enough for me to merely know the “where” of a person, and so what usually follows, time permitting, is by far my favorite question to ask: “How did you get here?” In my experience, it is the best way to get to know a person.
It may be the nature of my social circle, or the city in which I live, but nearly everyone I meet has come from somewhere else, often by way of a very circuitous route. The stories they have to tell… my God! They are usually fascinating, exciting, often filled with danger, and always worth the time spent listening.
So many of my friends and acquaintances have had to fight to get to the same geographic location at which I have arrived with relative ease. And when I say fight, I mean sacrifice, suffer, risk personal safety, often having left everything behind, for the opportunity to live in Canada. And for most of my life, despite being exposed to the requisite array of news stories, documentaries and National Geographic pictorial essays, I have taken for granted this precious gift. Somehow, it was not until I met my partner and my cultural world was thrown wide open, that I truly began to gain a true appreciation of what some people are willing to endure in order to not just find, but to make a better life for themselves and their families.
And so I listen with rapt attention to my new friends as they recount the tales of their journeys, painting pictures in my mind. I imagine myself in their shoes, and wonder if I could ever possess that kind of bravery, that kind of strength. Or would I stay with the others left behind, clinging to what life I have out of a fear of the unknown, or an unwillingness to change or take a risk.
The people you pass on the street every day, who serve your coffee, who ring through your grocery order, who drive the taxicab you take to the airport, they have the most incredible stories to tell. Their stories are the stories of the human struggle, not merely for survival, but the struggle to rise above the obstacles placed in our path by destiny. It is in the retelling of these stories that they are once again brought to life and gain the power to inspire another person to perhaps do something they’ve always dreamed of doing.
But perhaps more importantly, no matter where you are, you have come from somewhere else… geographically, psychologically, emotionally, metaphysically. It is the story of your journey that tells the real story of who you are, the story of what you are made of and the story of what you are capable of.
So the next time you meet someone new, ask them how they got there. I promise you that you will learn as much about yourself as you do the person you just met.