This is the first of several upcoming blogs about my recent trip to "Greenland'.
I am 'Going to Greenland'. It is an idea I have had since childhood. Greenland is a land of ice and snow and mystery - my own Shangri La. Although I have been on multiple canoe expeditions to the Canadian Arctic, I know of no one personally who has gone to Greenland. It is one of those places of dreams but not in the sense of really going there. But the occasion arose and I am going to Greenland.
To get there I have signed on with my friend Dan West and his travel group: Linblad Expeditions - National Geographic with all of its photojournalistic and eco-friendly trappings. Seldom have I taken the opportunity to expend my resources on myself. Interesting. To get to Greenland I fly to Minneapolis, go through an impenetrable maze to get from Concourse 1 to Concource 2 (6 escalators, a train ride, and two elevators) to arrive at IcelandAir for the trip Reykjavik, Iceland where I will meet up Dan and board our ship, the National Geographic Explorer.
In the waiting room I observe my fellow passengers: there are many youngsters in the late teens to early twenties age group. There are few passengers near my age. There is one coal black lady in her forties. I notice myself noticing her as 'other'. We finally board and I am pleased to hear that the plane trip will only be 5 and 1/2 hours. To my surprise I get to sit by the black lady. I notice I am not enthusiastic. She is quite nicely dressed but reticent to talk. With a lilting Jamaican accent she does tell me she is going to Ireland. And silence intervenes. We each sink into our own quietness. After some time the plane begins to shake - I mean really shake - like it is going to fall apart. The stranger next to me starts to shake visibly. She turns to me and asks,"Will you hold my hand?" I say, "Sure," and she grabs my hand with an iron grip. Her palm is sweating and she squeezes my hand in a death grip. She calms down noticeably. We do not talk. When the shaking stops we shyly let go of each others hands. We still don't talk. The shaking of the plane starts again and I reach over and take her hand in mine. She is slightly more at ease but still squeezes my hand to numbness. We are less like 'other' to each other in our mutual concern for the situation. We are closer. The silence between us remains.
At the the end of the plane ride we rise and mutually acknowledge each other and wish each other 'bon voyage'. I don't know if she was going to her personal "Greenland" but I do know that she has enriched my journey. We have had a memorable close encounter. Heidegger often describes our encounters with the 'other that is other'. Our touching and mutual support have transformed our relationship. We are closer as we part and this has occurred without verbal interaction. Somehow this was done in the experience of "knowing" at the level of our humanity.