It's not often that a nude Czech supermodel clutches to a tree for eight hours while the aftereffects of a tsunami continue to ravage and torment the people and places that swirl and twirl around her precarious perch. If that were me, and I were a nude supermodel, clutching for dear life to a submerged tree on a completely submerged beach in Thailand, it would totally make me think about life a little bit.
(I mean, that episode of Family Ties where Alex's life-long friend died in a car accident and Alex spent the whole episode sequestered in a psychiatrist's office made think about life, too, but this was different. And I'm not saying that I haven't been a nude supermodel in the past; I'm just not one now. That period of my life is over, for better or worse. And I do have a slight connection to the world of fully-clothed supermodels, given that Linda Evangelista grew up in my hometown -- St.Catharines, Ontario-- and the street I lived on for eight years was called Evangelista Court, named after her family. So between my nude supermodelling days in the past, and the whole Evangelista-hometown-old street connection, I can totally relate the supermodel in the tree.)
Petra Nemcova was on Larry King Live yesterday. She's the aformentioned nude supermodel who survived the tsunami while her fiancee, a disarmingly ordinary looking guy, perished. While watching the show, I was struck by her goodwill, her attitude, her positive view of life, her tenacity. Since most supermodels I've ever seen have been stuck-up bitches, I was blown away by how damn, well, nice she was. After every question taken from the callers she would smile genuinely and say: "Thank-you very much for your question." That sounds simple. It is simple. But the simple things are often what we humans leave behind in our race towards the more important stuff in life, like flat-screen TVs and the latest version of the I-pod.
And then I was struck by why and how I was struck. She was civil, polite, generous with her answers and her insights. After one caller asked a roundabout question that seemed to take forever, Larry, being 74 and cranky (despite being married to a gorgeous blonde Mormon) was clearly pissed, asking repeatedly: "What's your question, sir?" But Petra (I can call her that cuz we're tight) had alread heard the question, had been listening, and she answered, clearly and sympathetically. Maybe her nonchalantly generous attitude stems from her miraculous survival, or from the fact that she grew up poor in communist Czechoslovakia. I felt a little bit sad to be moved simply at how nice a person was, because it implies that most of the people around us aren't that nice on a daily basis, which I know not to be the case, but sometimes we forget and neglect how commanding sheer and unadorned pleasantness can be.
The tsunami (which Cambodia was thankfully spared the effects of) was a horrendous event that has already seemed to fade from our collective memory after the, um, tsunami-like wave of generosity it generated in the days and weeks following its onslaught. So many people's lives have been eradicated; so many people's fates have been thrown to the wind. We will never know why some lived and others died. What we learn from this is what we choose to, I guess, and supermodel-Petra learned to take each day as it comes -- to live it, with laughter.
Sometimes the things that disarm us are unexpected. Sometimes even beautiful people surprise us. I try to learn something every day, and what I learned from Ms.Petra's attitude yesterday was: It's okay to be polite and friendly and compassionate to strangers (even those on a phone). You don't have to be cynical and cranky and a prick. It's somewhat cleansing to realize that we have the capacity to be good and kind and decent in ordinary situations when we want to. If we want to.