I believe in life-long friends coming out of chance encounters. I had never had any intentions of spending time in Frankfurt, Germany. The entire city seems devoted to big business, and an impoverished student cannot help but feel out of place there. However, when my traveling companion’s mother was struck by a sudden illness, I had no choice but to accompany her as she traversed hundreds of miles of European countryside with the hopes that she could get an early flight back to the US. Needless to say, that trip alone is rife with humorous anecdotes and poignant life lessons, but it was not until I found myself alone in a strange city that my Weltanschauung would be changed forever.
There is something about being in Europe that engenders a powerful desire to fill one’s lungs with nicotine. This was, of course, at a time before despotic smoking laws became all the rage in America and Europe, so I spent my first morning as I had spent so many others—smoking in the sunroom of my youth hostel. As I sat, I noticed I was in the company of a lone individual, who was smoking a sweet smelling cigarillo. His hair was thick and dark, but his hands, which were tracing a yin-yang symbol that had been carved into the table, betrayed a man well into his autumn years. Out of courtesy, I preserved the silence of the room, knowing that I would not want my period of morning contemplation to be derailed by a talkative twenty something. However, it was not long before he began explaining to me the significance of the symbol that had so captivated him. I told him that I had, in fact, studied the iconography of this particular marking in one of the religion courses I had taken just that year, and it was hard to ignore the smile that crept across his face. After spending almost an hour talking about Hinduism and Buddhism I invited my new friend to join me in exploring downtown Frankfurt. However, he balked at the idea, telling me that he was content to remain in the hostel and watch the people passing by on the street.
When I returned several hours later, he had moved downstairs into the lobby, and when we made eye contact he greeted me with an ear-to-ear grin and soon rekindled our conversation. He told me then that he was in Frankfurt on a layover and that he would be traveling on to India, where he intended to give away all his earthly possessions before seeking out his Guru. Over the next twenty-four hours we would converse at length about our respective fears about suffering, death and the after-life, but it was not until we accompanied one another to the airport that he said something that would change my life. As we embraced one another to say goodbye, he pulled back and fixed me in his gaze. “I will see you again soon,” he said to me, before smothering me in one final hug.
Sergio was going to India to live out the remaining years of his life. He had no email, no phone number, no address. There was little chance, if any, that our paths would ever cross again. Why, then, would he make a statement that was almost certain to be proven false? There are some friends that you carry with you for the rest of your life, despite having only known them for a short time. Buried in a box somewhere in my attic there are two pictures of Sergio, but I never take them out; I don’t need to. At any given moment, I can recall his face right down to the minutest details. But, more than that, I remember the profound calmness that seemed to emanate from him. It is during these times that the fears and anxieties of my daily life seem to melt away. It is during these times that I cannot help but think, “Perhaps Sergio was right.”
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