Shawn shakes his head. “There seems to be a lack of understanding here,” he says.
Over several days, my friend Shawn and I have become regulars in this neglected little corner of the cruise ship monikered Adventure of the Seas. The lounge has all the makings of a quiet retreat – a place where a couple fellas can relax, enjoy a peaceful smoke, and a long palaver. Unfortunately, the “lack of understanding” Shawn alludes to is ruining the effect. To this point, the atmosphere of the place has been polluted by the incessant buzz of a television nobody watches, intertwined with dance club remixes of Katy Perry tunes, blaring over the house speakers.
“There seems to be a lack of understanding here.”
This observation goes beyond the lack of sensibility applied in a cruise ship lounge; it is a lamentable fact of life on Earth. It is a fact that frustrates this appreciator words beyond any words I might conjure. I find I’m woefully impatient with peoples’ lack of understanding. Fortunately, my friend has more faith in people. He believes it’s possible to share a little light with those who don’t understand. It must be faith he exercises when he decides to register a formal complaint with the cruise line over the conditions in the lounge. I’m thankful for Shawn’s faith, for without it, I would have missed out on one of the most profound experiences of our journey.
“Meet me in the lounge, ten minutes.” says the man on the phone. His name is Adi (rhymes with “dottie”), the ship’s beverage supervisor, and the man tasked with tending to Shawn’s complaint.
Shawn and I make our way down to Deck 5, location of the Connoisseur Club – the cruise line’s admirable attempt at a classic smoker’s lounge, complete with leather chairs, walk-in humidor, and floor-to-ceiling wood finishes on the walls. Each time I’m there, I’m reminded of Seinfeld’s Cosmo Kramer and his affinity for Cuban cigars and wood paneling.
“I want to surround myself with wood, Jerry. Wood.”
Entering the Connoisseur Club, we’re greeted by the familiar, accented chatter of British CNN correspondents. As usual, the small group of patrons – three or four at most – carry on in conversation, seemingly oblivious to the noise pollution wafting from the television. It strikes me that we’ve become awfully good at this as a society – obliviousness.
We’re taught in Biology class that our olfactory sense has something of a “standby” setting. If you’re around a particular odor long enough, your brain will stop reminding you the odor exists. This mechanism was particularly useful to me back when I made my living in raw sewage clean up; the olfactory standby mode is useful in preventing a perpetual activation of one’s gag reflex. Our sense of hearing, it seems, holds a similar ability.
Minutes after Shawn and I seat ourselves in a pair of leather sofas, a stout gentleman in a blue officer’s uniform enters and introduces himself. This is Adi – a pleasant man with an easy smile and endearing Romanian accent. He orders us some beverages and fetches the television remote, granting us the power to gag that obnoxious noise machine. Then he does something quite unexpected. He sits with us.
Our time with Adi lasts a solid hour, but only a few minutes of this time are spent discussing Shawn’s complaint. A few minutes are more than adequate for Adi to impress upon us that he gets it. He tells us the story of a past patron who expressed his appreciation for Adi’s service by gifting him a box of fine Cuban cigars. He wasn’t a connoisseur at the time, but it didn’t take him long to grasp the magnitude of the man’s gift to him. The gift was about more than the substantial monetary value of the cigars.
“It’s all about stopping time,” Adi says.
Hearing this, I extend a hand, and Adi and I engage in a cross-continental fist bump. It is obvious to me now that there is more going on in this moment than a trivial conversation about cigars.
I’ve heard this said of Heaven: It is not a destination to which you can go. It is only a place you can Be.
There are moments in life when we may find ourselves in that place – a place of Being, a place where time stops. These moments are not common, but I imagine they could be, if only we were willing to initiate the process – to quiet the distractions, to savor beauty, to fully engage with another. Here with Adi, I find myself in that place.
After sharing a portion of his life with us – tales of his family and his travels around the world – he stands. “I’ll be right back,” he says, “I have something for you from my private stock.”
He returns a minute later with a pair of premium Cuban cigars. I start in with the obligatory, “You don’t have to…”, realizing as I do so that this gift from him is very much a part of the heavenly glimpse the three of us have partaken in. As Adi might say, “It’s all about stopping time.”
A couple nights later, I have the opportunity to share a part of my life with him, as he did with me, by giving him a favorite stick from my own collection.
“This is it, Adi,” I say. “We’ve made a sacred exchange, you and me. Now we are brothers.”
As I snap a picture of him with the gift, he jokes that he is trying to look like a bad boy. If it’s true that Adi’s bad, then I think Heaven must be full of many bad folks.