John Steinbeck wrote “Travels with Charley: In Search of America” in the early 1960s. In the autumn of his life, he set out from his upstate New York home, in an old truck outfitted with a camper and his French poodle, Charley, to see America. His goal was to connect with real people and write stories about the locals he met along the way. Published in 1962, the book made the best seller list and is still in print today.
The stories told in Steinbeck’s work, including the quote above, hint at a very real crime we all commit: not taking time in our self-made busy lives to connect with the people around us. The ones we encounter each day who are from different walks of life. Co-workers and colleagues who have different beliefs or do not share the same socio-economic status as we do. Parents of our children’s classmates and neighbors who dress differently, speak with different accents or simply have mannerisms we cannot pause to understand. Rarely do we make time for them in our lives, let alone make eye contact with them when passing on the street.
But are they all that different?
They likely struggle – just like you and I – with the same issues of juggling family, friends and career. They lie awake at night wondering if they have prepared their children well for a successful, independent life. They worry about the stability of their jobs, their marriage and their health. They have moments of doubt and battle feelings of self-worth and shame. They question if they are good enough, strong enough, just enough.
They are like you.
Modern reviews of Steinbeck’s book suggest it was not a work of non-fiction. Those who have retraced his timeline and his published memoirs claim it is impossible that he met the people he claims. Documented evidence exists that he was not in the cities he claims in the book on the dates he said he was. If true, that is the saddest part of what is an otherwise great book from a master storyteller. That his inability to connect with others was so deep, that he simply made up colorful characters and interesting people in such masterfully poignant ways. That he could not go out and see them and find his own way to build the bonds of human connection and learn their story.
Life is not a work of fiction. It is real. People are real and their feelings, emotions and need to connect with others are real. Take the time in your life to build connections with and truly see those around you. Really see them. It is a building block to an outrageously wonderful life!