“I realized that you were an island and I passed you by…
you were an island to discover”
I love that line. Chris Martin penned it and hauntingly sings it in one of his many hits with his band Coldplay. It is an insightful line and one that perhaps an artist will sing but not something that many of us are willing to admit…that we might be missing out on something or someone.
We go about our lives, busy, distracted and filling space. We pass by islands we could have discovered. Maybe those islands take the form of people in potential friends, mates, companions and maybe those islands take the form of restaurants, films, parks…any number of things – but all are experiences that we pass by.
Everyday we pass by islands that we could be discovering.
It’s so easy to fill our day and schedule ourselves into oblivion in order to stay busy. It seems to be a right of passage, a goal, an achievement…the idea of being busy all of the time.
It seems at times the act of being busy equates to being important in our culture.
It’s as if being busy is ideal. But how does that leave time for spontaneity, for having time to discover people, places and things?
When I was in high school I was one of a small minority of students fortunate enough to participate in a 10-day European tour. In many regards I remember the trip like it was last week. During a very formative time, it opened my ripe, enthusiastic mind and introduced me to a new perspective to a diverse and accessible world waiting to be discovered. The trip was one of the most influential experiences I’ve ever had and is the reason I have continued to travel throughout adulthood. It doesn’t matter whether or not I travel with one person, a dozen or on my own; that 10-day, high school experience planted a seed that has continued to grow. And during that time, sitting in a café (it was actually a bar), in Lucerne, Switzerland, I learned about nuggets.
I’m not sure how things are now, but back then (1982), my parents granted permission for me to travel with the high school group and fully experience the European culture. That meant I could taste wine at dinner or have a beer, for example, in a bar in Lucerne, Switzerland. This wasn’t a party trip and frankly, it never occurred to me then that people drank to get drunk or over-indulged. I was introduced to wine and beer consumption with the casualness that one finds in Europe.
During our evening in Lucerne I stepped into a quiet, cozy bar which had a café-type atmosphere. People were reading, there was a small fire in the fireplace and a few people were sitting by it. I remember most people were by themselves and I felt welcome and even then, comfortable in foreign surroundings by myself. I don’t recall why I was by myself. I ordered a half-pint beer with lemonade – something that seemed so foreign yet very popular there – something I wanted to try. I don’t remember his name, his age or even what he looked like but I remember the conversation I had with the stranger in that bar. He asked questions about our group, where we were from – intrigued that a small group of high school students from Virginia had somehow ended up in Lucerne, Switzerland, on a cool April evening. It was there I learned about his theory of ‘Nuggets’.
He explained to me as I go through my life to look at everyone I meet as if they carry special nuggets. He explained that I will learn something from everyone I meet if I remember that they have something to share. As he and I sat and drank the half-beer, half-lemonade drink, he explained that no matter where I was that everyone will have an experience or a lesson or advice (nuggets) and to never miss out on that opportunity. He told me to never waste a chance to learn what someone else has to offer. I had explained we were traveling on a bus and I remember him asking me what I knew about our bus driver. By the time we ended our trip, I made sure I knew the bus driver’s story (and it turned out he loved the Beatles and we bought an Abbey Road tape and played it as we drove through the French countryside!). As I write this, I remember both the driver and the tour guides names, I remember their stories – I learned about nuggets.
In some ways the man in the bar was a bit like a prophetic angel, someone who caught my attention probably because I was in a foreign country, feeling very grown up and open to learning about a world that I had only seen in books or on television. I’m not sure a week of my life has gone by that I’ve not thought about the idea of nuggets (like gold, he explained…we all walk around with gold). Today this concept is so ingrained in who I am, it’s the reason I speak to people everywhere I go, the reason I gravitate toward places which hold no familiarity and a big reason for my sustained curiosity and sense of adventure (also imbedded and instilled in me by my mother who didn’t think twice about allowing her daughter to travel through Europe – long before the age of cell phones, internet, email, etc). Yet I suspect that brief conversation with the man in Switzerland, which I remember all these years later, has likely had a profound effect on my life and how I live it. I’m not a person who fills my schedule because selfishly, I want room to be able to listen and learn about those nuggets. I don’t want to pass by an island.
Perhaps that’s why the line in the Coldplay song resonates with me. Whether we think about people carrying nuggets in which we can learn, share and enjoy or if we see people and opportunities as islands waiting to be discovered…I think it’s a good approach to life.
We will never know what those nuggets are until we take the time to learn; we’ll never know what’s on the other side of that island until we take the time to discover.
The advice shared by a stranger so many years ago in an obscure little bar in Lucerne continues to carry weight. It is so easy to bite the ‘busy’ hook but at what cost?
What nuggets are you missing out on?
What islands have you passed by?
Thanks for reading,
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