One of my very first business trips was also one of my most terrifying. I went to Chicago in my mid-20’s to be deposed in a lawsuit against my company. We were accused of patent infringement, and I had prepared the analysis outlining the profit we had made on the accused product. Being interrogated by the plaintiff’s attorney was pretty unpleasant…he was a bully, just doing his job. But the two indelible memories of that trip occurred on its bookends. I was too nervous to sleep the night I arrived, so I stayed up and watched what turned out to be my favorite movie of all time: Shawshank Redemption. Watching that haunting movie, traveling alone for the first time in a strange city, left a deep mark. But the trip back to the airport is my favorite part of the story.
After my beating by our adversary’s attorney, our attorney put me on the train, known locally as the “L”, to go back to the airport. Keep in mind, I’m a country girl from Kansas. Chicago was the largest city I’d ever been in, and I was a novice business traveler…the L was exotic. The attorney told me that the airport was at the end of the line and left me to my own devices. At first, I enjoyed the big city scenery from my window, so interestingly different from the farm fields I was used to. But after awhile, I began to get nervous. I’d been on the train for nearly half an hour…how long could it take to get to the airport? What if I somehow missed my stop and my flight home? After a few minutes of increasing concern, I tapped the shoulder of the girl in the seat ahead of me and asked about the stop for the airport. When she turned to tell me that I only had a couple of more stops to go, I saw it: she was blind. The fish-out-of-water country girl from Kansas on Chicago’s L was led…by a blind girl. It still makes me smile to think about it.
I have since learned that I shouldn’t have been surprised. When I began mentoring others many years ago, I quickly learned that I often had more to learn from them than I could possibly offer in return. In fact, one of the most profound revelations about myself was gifted to me by a young grain merchant 15 years my junior. Her gift has saved me much heartache since, and I will be forever indebted to her.
It is these learning experiences which now make starting over easier. While I always experience great loss leaving friends who have made an impact on my life, I remind myself that there will be amazing people in the new place who will do the same…I just haven’t met them yet. Like the young grain merchant who held up a mirror to me with such clarity and changed my life. Or the blind girl on the L who reassured a scared country girl with her experience. I look forward to seeing who I will learn from tomorrow.
“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me, and be my friend.” –Albert Camus