Sunday, April 7, 2013

America, the lonely

Sometimes all I notice here is the loneliness.  Surely not only a Midwestern phenomenon, but perhaps partly prompted by our icy politeness.  We only go so far in our gestures towards others.  For talkative men on buses, we content our psyches by smiling and looking away, we may ignore teenagers as they walk boldly up sidewalks with big energy and big pants.  We talk to coworkers and inquire into their lives outside of work but never expect our personal lives to share space.  We create walls and borders and boundaries and categorize each other to our heart's content, without truly considering the heart of the matter.  We hesitate and stall and avoid inviting others into our circles of connection; we are each our own icy bubble of own-ness, of me-ness, of not-you-ness.  Sharing a meal with strangers, is, at this stage, unshakably inappropriate.  We care about each other in a political, legal way, and definitively dodge the more personal.  We log-on when seeking that oh so necessary element of human experience---because we can safely log-off afterwards.

I tend towards introversion, and I love the lazy safe space I create around myself when I'm alone-- I love having myself for company.  I can spin stories slowly in my mind as I walk along the street, I talk to myself in low-tones about the people I see, I babble and dance to music.  This is something I love.  I also love and crave the magical moments of human connection and engagement.  My favorite day last week?  Walking to work from the dentist- my tooth throbbing like a sweet secret inside my mouth, the day cold yet shining with sun, and while crossing a street and feeling the warmth on my face, and passing a man as he walks the other way, we both stop and smile at each other-- the smile like a natural extension of the sun on our faces, creating the squint in our eyes, and he says, "love that smile," and then my smile grows more than I thought possible.  My favorite days having nothing to do with work goals met or exercise or tasks but this one bright moment of human acknowledgement.  This bright moment in the sun doesn't always pan out exactly like this-- I've had unexpected conversations on public buses turn from warmth into disgust into "i hope he doesn't get off on my stop" but it's still there that unexpected sharing of intimacy.  I want to be a collector of these moments, a cataloger of the rare self-changing times when we recognize each other and exchange human warmth or curiosity throughout our busy days.  I want to be able to draw out examples and episodes and rare feelings to show others, to share with others, to give examples for myself on how to live more like a person and less like a facebook account.

I hate those walls we have.  Strongest around class, income level, race, culture, they block us off from each other and define us strictly.  We are categorized by the facts of our physical appearance.  We are a melting pot of slow-cooked tension and fear.  That essential ingredient of life-- a sense of belonging- in America comes at such a cost.  Tribeless, some of us, and so we cling to our strictly defined echelon and only color within those lines- because it gives us a semblance of tribe, and we use the rest of our energy towards painting everyone else in a few bold strokes of color.  I haven't been here for long and know little, but it seems like we live on one of the loneliest places in the universe.  From an early age, we are eager to leave and experience the world- if we are so fortunate to have these dreams- and we are always leaving, planning, scheming, to get somewhere else where people seem to live more.  Where those human moments come daily.  I was acknowledged and engaged in so many interactions in Uganda that I became sick of it.  To leave my house somedays was harder than I'd like to admit.  I was tired of long-winded, perfectly obvious greetings, that would waste my time and decrease the amount of daylight that I had to get to the market and back.  I was so sick of being special, white, foreign, rich, different, alien.  Because, I didn't see myself that way.  (Who does?) I wanted to blend into the red dirt roads and cassava fields like everyone else.  I felt cursed to be this privileged visitor that would never integrate anywhere in the world besides a suburb.  Those walls, existed even there.  But now, I miss the greetings, the acknowledgement, the curiosity, the joy, the sense that time wasn't an issue.  In America, we are fueled by our silence and privacy and singular possession of time.  We are seen by each other as different/strange/unlike us/privileged/impoverished/ignorant/alien.  That's not different.  What is different is that the walls are just too high and solid to see over.  We can't shout greetings through the cracks and holes and spaces.  We can't connect.  We see each other as alien creatures traveling on the same planet as US.  There is still US and THEM more than we'd like to admit. 

Cursed by luck or cursed by unluckiness in our birth.  Unforgivable, any way that you look at it.  We never will look or be seen the way that we view ourselves.  So few people will see through the cracks and openings to acknowledge each other.  So few people try.  I've never fully noticed any of this until now.  Because I was lucky enough to go to college, because I was lucky enough to stave off two years of my adult life by living abroad, I've been sweetly ignorant and blind to what America feels like.  America sounds like a million keyboards typing out individual messages to far-off receivers.  It smells like condemned brightly-painted restaurants that still smell like the Asian food they once sold.  It tastes like the individual chemicals and preservatives that make up our meals.  It looks like the Mall of America on a busy day as individual dodge each other in the hard bright pathways on their frantic routes to specific stores.  It feels like the long waiting to see your lover again, when you know in your heart that it will never happen.  It's a waiting.  A waiting amidst the tightly screwed time conscious movements and routines of our busy daily lives, as we move, and plan, and work, and sweat, and talk, and worry, we are all of us just waiting for that one bright moment when someone looks us in the eyes and recognizes us.  America, the lonely. 

1 comment:

  1. This is INCREDIBLE. You have the most beautiful words to describe something that I have only been able to discuss in the smallest of spaces thus far. Well done.