Monday, December 26, 2016

Dec. 25, 2016, column: Step out of your comfort zone and meet your fellow man

Step out of your comfort zone and meet your fellow man

By Mike Haynes
            As soon as I knew I would retire from Amarillo College and would have time for an early December trip, Kathy and I booked one of those Viking river cruises that you see advertised with enticing pictures and seducing words on Panhandle PBS.
            We planned it for more than a year to celebrate what I consider a significant milestone for any married couple: our 25th anniversary.
            I suppose one reason we’re compatible is that we’re perfectly happy to do things just as a pair. We don’t hate group activities, but we tend to be more comfortable, for example, watching “Poldark” on … yes, Panhandle PBS, than being “social.”
            But on a cruise, you sit with other people for three meals a day, and we’re not socially inept (at least Kathy isn’t), so over 11 days, we did manage to make some friends.
The Christmas market in Old Town Square in Prague,
Czech Republic, has the gothic Tyn Church
and baroque-style buildings as a backdrop.
The church structure dates to 1385.
(Photo by Mike Haynes)

            We certainly recommend travel, and I could write pages about the wonderful sights and sounds we experienced: the beautiful parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, that you see in the Viking commercials; four young singers recreating “Sound of Music” tunes in Salzburg, Austria; drinking apricot-like nectar at a monastery near Krems, Austria; touring artist Albrecht Durer’s 16th century house in Nuremberg, Germany; and watching the lights on a three-story tree dance to the “William Tell Overture” at the brilliant Christmas market in Prague, Czech Republic.
            Christmas certainly is on bright display in those town square markets across central Europe, although the “reason for the season” is more commercial and cultural than spiritual on a continent that gets more secular every year.
            Our trip was delightful in part because of the castles and cathedrals, sausage and trdelnik pastry, but also because Kathy and I didn’t stay in our two-person cocoon. We were reminded that people who might seem distant turn out to be just as friendly as we West Texans.
            Steve and Gina had New York accents that, if you believe the movies, are supposed to indicate … well, stereotypical New Yorkers. But guess who volunteered to lend his camera battery charger and even trusted me to mail it back to him? Steve from Long Island.
            The two gray-haired women from Pennsylvania turned out to be retired teachers with fascinating travel stories about Cuba and China – one of whom has a son in Midland, Texas.
            After venturing a conversation with another retired teacher from Missouri, we found out she grew up in Brownfield, Texas. Janice from Nashville and Lynn from Illinois take annual trips together since they retired from the insurance industry, and we got to enjoy Janice’s Tennessee accent and goodbye hugs from Lynn.
            Aleksandar, our ship’s maĆ®tre d’ from Bosnia, noticed my Dallas Mavericks shirt and was eager to inform us that we were just 100 kilometers from the German hometown of Mav star Dirk Nowitzki.
            It’s obvious, but strangers become real people when you get to know them personally. The tall man with the hat who seemed to never smile during a tour of Vienna turned into a retired mechanical engineer from St. Louis who’s been to Amarillo. The ice was broken with the cute couple from Georgia when Kathy complimented them on their attentiveness to each other.
            Maybe that’s one reason the Father sent his Son to Earth 2,000 years ago – so we could get to know him better. As Jesus experienced humanity firsthand, those people who met him in the flesh saw God directly rather than as a name on a scroll.
            Emmanuel – “God with us” – Jesus the Messiah – still is available for a personal relationship with each human being. Christianity is not a religion of just of ritual and going through motions but of a direct connection.
            We can observe God and his creation, but for the real experience, we have to initiate a conversation. We have to talk to him.