Monday, October 4, 2010

A glimpse of humanity

Lounging around Dupont Circle during a visit to DC this past Saturday, I was suddenly accosted by a vaguely horrifying sight: a very tanned, slightly withered old man, strutting his relatively obese self across my line of vision in a pair of baby blue, nearly non-existent short shorts. I gasped in shock and horror, unable to tear my eyes away before the worst of it: his walking away, giving me a prime view of that which I truly did not want to see.

Needless to say, I was profoundly glad I’d already consumed my ice cream, having lost my appetite forthwith. However – and here’s the important part of the story – one positive thing did come of it: a moment of mutual understanding with a complete stranger.

As I watched, wide-eyed and mouth agape, the wonderfully bold and unconcerned old man walk away, I heard a British accented gasp of “Oh my God,” and managed to pull my eyes away to note that the common sentiment had come from a passerby who had also just played witness to the unfortunate sight. He, having heard my own disturbed mutterings, turned towards me, made eye contact, and our looks of horror quickly subsided to smirks of mirth and, ultimately, flat out laughter. Were we terrible for reaching this mutual understanding at the expense of another? Perhaps… but no harm no foul, right?

Confession: though it may sound odd, I love moments like that. Moments when, even in the middle of a bustling city, one can pause to soak in a quick and unexpected connection with an absolute stranger. It seems in some way wonderfully humanizing.

The DC metro, for instance, is possibly one of the least such humanizing features I’ve ever come across: people packed in body to body, all silent, total lack of facial expression, filing down the platform and up the escalators with quick steps and steady gazes. Yet, one day, I randomly made eye contact with someone across the car, we found ourselves nearer together as we gradually approached the door and others exited at their respective stops, and we ultimately struck up a conversation. This was last spring, and truth be told, we just met to catch up over dinner shortly after the aged and exposed rear threatened to cause permanent damage to my retinas. One exchange, one moment of humanity, and it yielded an interaction I’d never have anticipated.

Back on campus, dinner in the caf. some time ago found me goofily bopping along as I sang the Heat Miser and Snow Miser songs from the ancient Christmas classic, “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” in an attempt to culturally educate my friends at the table. Now, don’t judge me, please, because my fellow Dickinsonian sitting at the next table over certainly didn’t. Instead, when he was suddenly given a straight-shot view of my less-than-dazzling solo, he caught my eye and burst into a huge, friendly grin. Even as I turned an absurd shade of pink in embarrassment, it was clear he was, in all sincerity, smiling and laughing with me, not at. I still have no idea who it was, but I applaud his friendliness.

Of course, the fantastic feature about all of this is the sheer unexpectedness of it all, the fact that it could happen at any time and anywhere, in a crowded DC metro or in a college dining hall. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love people watching, but perhaps even better than that are these such moments. No longer an outside observer, some random person in the world has just reminded you that you are a person of the world, too. And it’s lovely.

Sometimes the inspiration for the moment is disturbing, sometimes a completely random catch of the eye, sometimes entertaining, sometimes potentially mortifying… the list goes on. Every time, though, it makes me smile in proving that, no matter where you are or how large the world, there can and will always be such instances of unadulterated humanity, plain and simple.

1 comment:

  1. I share your love of moments like that. I work in Seattle and heading down to the public center is sometimes a profound pleasure as some abominable scene unfolds. Sometimes it's painful, other times it's just sad, but it's always amusing.