Wednesday, December 17, 2014

shimmering reality underneath

"Art uncovers relations that ordinary seeing and experiencing obscure or even deny."
--Rowan Williams, Grace & Necessity

On my walk to work each day, I pass a young girl outside her apartment building.
Some days, she is with her brother, who runs faster than she does, and can cross the street in one big bound. Some days, she is just exiting the front door, while her mother stands and watches. Some days she is standing by the traffic signal, her body braced against the cold. Some days, she is playing with the newspaper box and singing softly to herself.

The first days, when I would pass her, I would smile with my eyes, but, both of us being shy of one another, we wouldn't say anything. But acknowledge this stranger sharing our street. Then, after a few weeks, I would smile with my mouth and my eyes. And she would smile back. Now, when we pass, I wave and say good morning. And she says hello back, but doesn't wave. And I feel the sisterhood that arises when you encounter another person in the midst of an anonymous city; a kinship of humanness in the crush of the machine. Somehow the repetition of a person in your day makes them more real. They exist in a pattern outside of yours, an independent movement that intersects with your own. It is endlessly jarring to find yourself constantly bumping into them.

But jarring in a way that jolts you out of the complacency of self-absorption. Jarring in a way that reminds you: wake up! The world is rife with humans living out their stories. Jarring in a way that encourages you to look more closely at the world around you.
Because if you look closely, you'll see messages graffitied on the sidewalk.
You'll see rows of brownstones reflecting the rain water.
You'll see the sunrise over the East river, turning the sky into a mottled mural of carmine and gentle amber.
You'll see the world rising into activity out of the slumber of the night, slowly bustling down the quiet streets that bleed into the chaos of midtown.
You'll hear the train rumbling by overhead on the elevated tracks, and you'll watch the rainwater drip off of tunnels.
You'll smell the sweet rolls and the tacquerias and the bodegas making something or other.

The world is such a rolling, roiling mass of senses and sensory experiences, washing over you as you clip-clop down the sidewalk.
It is so easy to get lost in the ocean of everything all around you.
Encountering another person is like a lonely scuba diver finding another diver underneath the waves.
Can you imagine what a surprise that would be? As one is expecting only sting-rays and keeping company with clownfish, to find, amid the coral reef, an inmistakable human face and form, someone kindred to yourself in the midst of the foreign and the alien.
And I imagine these two underwater travelers, too, would wordlessly smile and wave, and then part ways to follow their path beneath the sea.

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