Sunday, September 4, 2011

Snapshots: Oh, the people you meet . . .

While waiting at our respective windows inside a Wells Fargo, the woman next to me looked my direction as I held Lincoln on my hip. I had already taken an interest in her while waiting in the line. She did not dress her age. Judging by her raspy voice, the harsh lines and bags under her eyes, and her wiry hair I guessed that hard living had contributed many more years to her face than she really owned. She wore six inch tan leather heals, and a tube top dress with a matching cross-in-the-back purple bra. Her hair was bleached blonde-white with the exception of a few deep purple streaks which you could see woven into her loose sexily-ratted braid. Her purple glitter french-tipped toenails, excessive makeup, lip stud, and loud voice only served to contribute to the spectacle that was uniquely her. She started up a small conversation with me about Lincoln. She noticed his excessive drool and that he was gnawing on his thumb. She told me about how she gave her children beef jerky when they were teething. "I know you're probably a vegetarian, but that jerky - it helps their teeth cut through faster." (I am not a vegetarian by the way. Perhaps she caught a glimpse of Lincoln's cloth diapers, or maybe it was my Bohemian style skirt that led her to think that? She must have missed Lincoln's t-shirt which had a picture of a pepperoni pizza slice labeled, "Food Pyramid". ;))

A couple hours later, at a local thrift shop, I had a conversation with the woman who owned the store. As she rang me up for our purchase - a funky teal/turquoise table that I'll be using for sewing and crafting - she remarked that Lincoln had, "Such bright eyes!" I felt instantly more connected to her, because I was often called "bright eyes" as a child myself. She wore a bandana on her bald head and two deep red antique chandelier earrings. I don't remember what she was wearing. I was too captivated by her smile, and most of all by her eyes. Her face was worn, but there was a radiance in the way she wore her age. She had nostalgic love in her brown eyes and peace in her warm smile as she told me about her three sons all while looking at Lincoln. Her first son was social, "Like your little one," she said. Her second son had orange-red hair which she loved. Because when she used to have hair, before she was going through chemo, she had streaks of red in her hair. She always loved her son's hair, because it was hers. She told me his hair has long since turned brown and that he's 46 years old now. "Oh, how I loved his hair."

At the end of our day, we made a stop in a local rug shop. The salesman had a distinctly European accent. Though he spoke with a sort of British accent, I could tell English was not at all his first language. As a German speaker, I am sensitive to foreign accents and can usually guess the German speakers. His was similar to an English-speaking German, but not quite the same so I was deeply curious to know where he was from. After we finished looking through all the different rugs with him and discussing the different materials in the rugs, "I think you would like this one better. The materials are not synthetic . . ." I got the courage to ask him, "I hope you don't mind me asking, but where are you from?" "South Tucson," he joked. It turns out he was from Denmark. "Oh! I see! I wasn't sure where you were from. I speak German and was trying to guess your accent." "Wir können Deutsch!" (We can speak German with each other!) He told me. "That's wonderful! It's not everyday you meet a fellow German speaker," I remarked. "You'd be surprised," he said. "There are quite a few. But, maybe I just find them easier. We imports find each other. At a party for the U of A, we counted that 18 different countries were represented."

I'm writing these encounters to remember. To remember these people, their faces, the small glimpse I got of each one of their stories, and the way each of them made me feel.

In my interactions with these three strangers today, I was reminded of a feeling I had on my study abroad in Vienna, Austria. That feeling of shock, curiosity, and deep humility. As I walked slowly down Kärntner Strasse, watching the throng of different colored and shaped faces, and listening to their conversations in a myriad of different languages - oh, how small I felt! I wished so deeply in those moments that I could learn their stories, all while knowing I never would. And I grieved that loss as I walked some more.

I'll tell you a secret now. I still grieve that loss often - that inability of mine (of all of us really) to really know everyone's story. I certainly don't know the stories of the three I met today. Though in my short interactions with them I was able to capture a snapshot of each one of them, and for those I am grateful. And I will treasure them, because at the end of the day - that's all we ever really get of anyone isn't it? Just a piece of their life story? Some of our snapshots capture some truth ("bright eyes"), and some are simply off (vegetarian), but for that brief moment in time we are connected to each other in our seeking to understand and be understood by the other. In a way, I suppose we are all just "imports" seeking to find others like ourselves in this dizzying experience we call life. Though perhaps, as my new friend from Denmark suggested, finding others like ourselves is not so hard. We simply have to open our eyes and ask.

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