The world is filled with different people.
I have sat on hilltops in Capetown, drinking wine and eating kudu carpaccio. I’ve felt the random rush of people, all moving on different missions, in Shinjuku. I have had my leisurely morning breakfast by Hoan Kiem in Hanoi. I’ve had my daily routine in Manhattan. I’ve written half a book on a deck overlooking the blue waters of Honolulu. I’ve watched the Broncos demolish the Sharks in Brisbane after a huge Aussie steak dinner. I’ve walked the hilly residential streets of Valparaiso, studying the intentional and invited graffiti, while stepping around cat after cat. I’ve watched the Tel Aviv Mediterranean sunset from the beach. I’ve walked the twisted old streets of Edinburgh and the planned refined streets of Paris. I have a favorite Scotch shop in London. I’ve been quietly terrified driving through Bangalore.
Every place, every moment, was defined by the people.
If these places, these scenes, had no people – they would lose their meaning.
~ ~ ~
In November 2016, I found myself walking familiar streets in Malmö, Sweden. I walked mechanically, my feet falling one in front of the other. I knew where I needed to go, even if I didn’t want to get there.
It was a Monday.
I was headed to Vollmers, a beautiful little restaurant I’d been to several times—but never alone.
Vollmers was closed on Mondays.
I looked through the small windows and the hostess was inside. She was busy.
She looked up and said in Swedish, “We are closed today.” I said, “I know.”
She cocked her head, doing what everyone does when I use context as a translator.
I said, “I need to make a reservation for Wednesday night.”
She stood and went to the book and said, “For how many?”
“Yes, I’ve been here four times, but each time was with a woman and she passed away suddenly. I am coming to eat and remember and toast her.”
In Sweden, people are stoic. One of my favorite things to do when working with Swedish (or Norwegian) teams or audiences is to get them to laugh. To crack that exterior shell.
She stared at me, she started to cry.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “what time?” She was flustered, simultaneously saying she was sorry for my loss and for her loss of composure.
We set a time, had a hug of mutual support, and I left.
I left to go back to the conference to make Swedish people laugh.
On Wednesday, I went to the restaurant.
The entire staff was ready for me. They had a specific table. They paid close attention to me. Not too much. Certainly not too little.
Every member of the staff talked to me. I arrived nearly first, I closed the restaurant.
I gave Jean a send-off. It was personal, yet it was shared. It was shared because people, everywhere, care. It was shared because food is a form of communication. It allows us to come together, and it provides us space. Food allows us moments to just…chew. To taste. To use our senses. To think. To process.
~ ~ ~
Over the last decade of nearly constant travel, I’ve been able to go places I doubted I, as a Nebraska kid, would ever see. This is what I’ve found. I’ve found less fear and more interest. I’ve found less hatred and more sharing. I’ve found less selfishness and more humanity. I’ve found people willing, at a moment’s notice, to reach out and lend support.
Malmö, Sweden, is a lovely town that has survived its rough period. The older ancient streets are punctuated with ultra-modern buildings. It’s a delight to walk, in the sunlight, the dark, or the more-present rain. But the streets, bridges, and beautiful old town hall would be nothing without the people.
It would be a shell. A container. A museum at best, mausoleum at worst.
It’s the people that make this world what it is. They are our friends. They are our allies. They are our trading partners. They are our security.
I have had a lot of wonderful experiences with the good people on our planet. I’m feeling like it’s time to record some of them. It would probably be impossible to get all of them.