Yesterday, I walked up to my gate at Denver International Airport. I saw a guy, about my age, sitting with his arms stretched out over the chairs on either side of him. He was covered in tattoos, had long scraggly hair, a rough looking patched up denim vest, spikes on his wrist, and a skinned coyote sitting on top of his suitcase. It was difficult to not stare… not so much at him, but the creature with him. It’s not that I felt scared or threatened or judgmental, but I was more curious about how the little old ladies and young moms around me were perceiving this guy. It was obvious that everyone wanted to look at him but didn’t want to get caught staring. A few minutes into my “people watching”, I saw this young guy stand up and offer his seat to an old man and his wife. He stood in the middle of the room and waited for the plane to board.
My curiosity got the best of me, so I walked up and asked if I could pet his dead animal. He asked if I’d like to try it on– turns out it was a skinned coyote that was turned into a hat for him, as a Christmas present. He was so proud of it! We even had a mini-photo shoot, and a few minutes later a timid 10 year old girl also came over and asked to try it on. I wish I had gotten a photo of him, and not just him of me… he had a lot of personality. Actually, my favorite part of this guy was that he looked like he belonged on “Sons of Anarchy”, but he spoke with a southern drawl, long and slow. It was delightfully confusing.
We ended up sitting and talking awhile– he pulled a photograph out of his wallet of his little sister (named Kathryn, incidentally). He told me how he grew up as an orphan and never really belonged anywhere, and that just recently his biological father contacted him. He learned that he had a little sister and a brother as well, and is now preparing to move to Colorado to start afresh with his newly found family.
You know, people surprise me. I surprise me. As hard as I work to not do this, I still draw conclusions about people just from their appearance and first impression I get. And then I get humbled and enriched by a simple conversation with a stranger, who proves to be a far more accepting human than I am. Perhaps this was the very best start to my trip– a reminder to be open to people very different from me. Be open to new experiences, friends, life lessons, and fashion statements.