I love meeting new people. Like it’s seriously one of my favorite things. I love when you’re getting to know someone and you realize how similar you are to each other or you realize how insanely different you.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people “people watch.” I relate so much to this. Watching people is so cool. I wonder where they’re going. Did they eat breakfast? How many pairs of shoes do they have? Yes, I realize this is kind of creepy, but these are things I seriously wonder. When I would ride in the car when I was a kid, we’d pass houses and I’d always wonder what was going on in there that second. If I could see tv light, I’d wonder what they were watching. If I could see people, I’d wonder how long they’d been standing there, visible to the road. I just thought it was so cool that millions of things were going on right around each other at the same time and no one has any idea.
Anyways, I think it’s crazy how different people are. With that being said, I feel as if society-myself included- bases so much judgement on first impressions. First impressions are hard to get rid of and most often you never forget the first impression you have of someone. Sure, sometimes, they’re accurate. But a lot of the times, they’re not.
Yesterday, I went white water rafting with a group of people from a campus ministry. It’s the second week of October, also the second week that the river is technically “open”, but I rarely pass up an adventure or a chance to be in nature, so I was pretty excited, despite knowing the water was going to be freezing. One friend that was also going, was extremely nervous, but she was also excited
Once we got to the site of the company that we were rafting with, we had to take a bus down the river. So we put on the bulky life jackets, grabbed the awkward helmets and paddles and loaded up. On the bus ride, I got to talking with two girls I’ve gotten pretty close. We talked about all kind of things. I discovered one girl was also into crossfit and we discussed checking out a gym soon. We made future plans for a camping trip. And of course we talked about classes. The topic of families and cousins got brought up and one girl told us she didn’t have any cousins her age. They were either way younger or way older. My mind was literally blown. When I was in high school, I had 10 cousins that were also in high school. Yes, ten. (I’m pretty sure I said eight at the time, but going back and counting I realized I left two of them out. My bad.) But yeah, they thought that was crazy. They couldn’t imagine having a family that big. But to me, this was nothing new. It was all I’d ever known.
We also got to talking about tubing. Anyone who knows my family, knows we take tubing serious. Like, so serious. I knocked my two front teeth out tubing. Okay, correction, I knocked them loose, and they were sticking straight out of my head. A cousin’s friend broke his nose on the tube. Numerous blisters and rashes have covered our stomachs, arms, and legs from staying on for hours. We’ve lost more bathing suit bottoms than we can count, because we were too stubborn to let go and fall off even when we felt them around our ankles. As they were talking about how high they’d gotten on tubes or scary it was, I just smiled and laughed. I loved hearing their stories and the way they’d grown up and experienced the same things in different ways. It was so cool to me.
Once we got off the bus and to the loading site, we spilt up into two groups for two rafts. We were joking around and deciding which seat to get.
“Hey, wait. I want to be in one of the middle seats,” one of my friends told us, the one that was nervous.
“You’ll get in whatever seat I tell you to get in,” this came from our raft guide. We looked at him, assuming he was joking. We waited for a smile or a laugh, but neither appeared. We realized he wasn’t kidding. Oh okay.
“I’m an ex-marine drill-sergeant and I don’t put up with anything. It’s just how I am.”
Well, alright. This was going to be interesting. We all kind of exchanged looks, not really sure how to handle this.
Once we got on the river and started rafting, he immediately began barking out orders. I’d been rafting twice before this, so I imagined I’d feel pretty comfortable. But he started to stress me out because we’d get turned around and stuck and he’d scream for us to paddle backwards, nonstop. He seemed tense, we made the atmosphere of our boat tense.
My friend that he had already called out once was sitting beside me and was not having the best time at the beginning of the ride. A couple of times, the “T-grp” slipped out her hand and he chewed her out, every time. She wasn’t letting go of it on purpose, it was just flying out of her hand. (The t-grip is the handle part of the paddle and apparently is known for breaking noses and knocking out teeth.) Thankfully, this didn’t happen, but I did give her a hard time, saying I’d had braces for a couple years and I wasn’t about to turn back.
At one point we went through a huge rapid and she sunk down in the boat and didn’t paddle.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOUR PADDLE DIDN’T EVEN GET IN THE WATER!”
“It’s okay. I made up for it,” I tried to offer up a solution.
“Yeah, and that’d what makes it bad.”
Seriously, dude? I couldn’t see anyone’s face, but I could tell we all rolled our eyes at this.
Once we got on down the river and we were in smoother water for a few minutes, he loosened up a little.
I was in the back of the boat, right in front of him. Naturally, I tried to strike up conversations. I definitely get this from my dad, he’s never met a stranger and he loves asking random questions to strangers. This sometimes is crazy annoying and everyone is like dad, chill. But I’ve noticed myself doing it a lot lately, so I guess I can’t really give him a hard time about it anymore.
“So how long have you been a rafting guide?”
“I left the marines about 20 years ago, so about 18 years,” he informed us between shouting out orders for us to paddle harder. Dude was intense.
“Oh okay. Well how did you get this job?”
“I was living in the woods and one of the raft guides asked if I needed a job. I didn’t really want a job and I was happy being on my own in the outdoors, but I figured I’d check it out.”
“You mean you just like camped all the time? Like you literally lived outdoors?”
“Yep,” he said, acting like that wasn’t crazy
“Wait! Have you ever heard of the book, Into the Wild?”
“So was it like that?”
Into the Wild is by Jon Krakauer. It’s about this guy being so fed up with society that he goes to live in the wilderness. It’s one of my favorite books. It’s also a movie, but obviously the book is way better.
But I thought that was so cool. I’d never met anyone who lived in the woods or even anyone who even thought about living in the woods.
Throughout conversations, I learned some crazy things about our cranky tour guide:
-He’d been shot twice.
-He’d been trapped under a building after a bomb explosion or fourteen hours.
-His legs were crushed and under so much pressure a blood blister the size of a cd appeared on his back.
-He got bit by a copperhead when he was a kid and waited two days before he told his mom.
-His thumb was bitten off by a snapping turtle and sewed back on.
-He left the marines when they tried to take him out of the field and make him work behind a desk
-He was 65.
-He put up with no nonsense.
We all cringed at his stories and were pretty shocked when he threw in his sense of humor. We all were even a little sad when the ride came to an end. Once we got on the bus, he showed us one scar on his back from being shot. It was long and it looked like it was pretty deep. He even informed us he had another gunshot wound on his butt and wanted to know if we wanted to see. All of our eyes got pretty wide, not sure what to say. Then he started cracking up and let us know he was joking. Ha-ha, good one…
When we parted ways with him, he came up to my friend he’d given a hard time from the beginning and asked her if they were cool or if she was mad at him.
“Oh yeah, we’re cool,” she smiled at him and I think they fist bumped or something.
On the car ride home we all talked about the day and obviously our guide.
“Ya know, he was actually a pretty cool guy,” said my friend that was now friends with him. We all agreed with her.
“He was like an onion,” she said, “you just had to slowly peel back his layers and get to know him.”
What a cool visual.
Peeling people back and getting to know them little by little.
If we all took the time to “peel” people back and get to know them instead of going solely off our first impression of them, the world would be a much better place.
I know that I didn’t really get to know this guy that well in the few short hours I spent with him, but I did realize how wrong my first impression of him was. At the beginning of the day, I thought he was just a jerk. But leaving that day, I had so much respect for him, learning just a few of the things he’d been through.
So this week, I challenge you to caution yourself before forming an opinion about someone. Get to know them and their story before you begin making assumptions. Make the world a better place by peeling people’s layers back, just like you would an onion