Monday, March 24, 2014

30x30: Look Closer

Living in the city, I can get pretty misanthropic at times. I work a 9-5 at a desk downtown, and going downtown is not my favorite thing. Neither are desks.

I commute twice a day, during the city's two rush hours. The bus, to the train, then a ten minute walk from Clark Street to Michigan Avenue. Rush hour faces are everyone's worst faces. Rush hour selves are frequently everyone's worst selves. And offices are these liminal spaces where our inherent humanity goes in and out like a bad radio signal.

Commuting and desk working, it's easy for me to start seeing the world through poop-colored glasses, and it's extraordinarily easy, in these less than ideal circumstances, to encounter a person who might ordinarily be awesome, but mistake them for obnoxious, or selfish, or oblivious, or annoying. 

I did not like who I was becoming, feeling this way about people every day, practically all day.

On one occasion, though, I was riding the bus and happened to glance at someone with such incredibly expressive eyes that I couldn't look away. Looking at him, I felt as though I knew his entire life story in an instant. It was disconcerting. I wasn't prepared to feel so confronted, and made so aware of a stranger beyond his taking up space on the bus. But what was, at first, unsettling then mellowed into a feeling like comfort - something like feeling the ground under my feet and being able to breathe where before I had been holding my breath.

It was like being that much more alive in a time and space that requires a certain deadening.

So I started doing it on purpose - looking into the eyes of other strangers, trying to see who they really were, beyond just somebodies going somewheres.

There is an art to this. It is wildly creepy to just stare at people unabashedly in public spaces. You've got a solid 3-4 seconds before anyone who's not asleep or on their iphone starts to sense your gaze and catches you looking at them.

But in 3-4 seconds, if you're really looking, you can see a lot. It's all there. It's remarkable. Among these strangers that I once so easily dismissed, I see whole stories shining out through their eyes.

A lot of times I see anxiety. Sometimes I see fear. At the end of the day there's a lot of relief or anticipation. Sometimes resignation. 

But what I see most is hope.

And on the days when the noise and the push and the drudgery of it all make me and everyone else seem like little Sisyphusian ants, I just look at the person across from me, and wait to see their story, and know that I'm not alone.

Original Illustration by Isabella Rotman

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