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POV: Seen.

POV ("point of view") is a series that addresses many of the same themes covered in my Equals Record column: growing up, saying yes to adventure, learning to embrace a quarter-life crisis. Each POV entry will include a photograph and a short reflection based on what’s pictured. While my previous column focused largely on ideas, POV focuses on moments - glimpses, glances, tiny stories. 


One afternoon two or three springs ago, I missed my stop on the East River Ferry. The mistake cost me forty-five minutes and landed me in midtown Manhattan, navigating the tunnels under 42nd Street in a daze. 

As I made my way toward the subway platform, I bumped into a man heading in the opposite direction. Our arms brushed, or maybe it was our shoulders. I thought it was a gentle collision. My instinct was to keep walking - it was rush hour and the station was crowded; it was best, I thought, to get wherever I needed to be as quickly and in as uncomplicated a manner as possible. 

I didn’t stop. The man, however, did. “Excuse me, ma’am!” he yelled after me. “You run into me and you don’t say anything?”

His voice carried as I continued down the tunnel. But because I was flustered and in a rush, and because he was still shouting and I found him just the tiniest bit scary, I didn’t stop. I didn’t turn. Not even a glance over my shoulder to look.
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Now that I’ve spent close to five years in New York City, I’ve gotten used to the constant company of strangers. It’s something I don’t even think about anymore, and it’s a reality that I both love and loathe about New York. These days, I’ve found myself growing impatient in my daily interactions with people on the street. I find that I expect to be annoyed by the slowness of tourists on public walkways, by the  incompetence of people working in stores, and by the seemingly unending parade of wheeled apparatus on city sidewalks: strollers, scooters, children’s bikes.

As someone who loves people and who has always had a deep affection for her neighborhood, this doesn’t feel like me. I don’t like that I’ve gotten used to ignoring the crowds of people around me, and that it’s startling when someone approaches to ask the time, or where my shoes are from, or where Bedford Avenue is. 

It doesn’t come naturally anymore to recognize strangers as complicated humans who feel and fear and love, and with whom there’s always a possibility to connect.  

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Early one evening in Sri Lanka, Yair and I came across what appeared to be a deserted area near a waterfall in Deniyaya. We climbed to the top and chose a large, flat rock to sit on. I finished a book. Yair practiced handstands. We wondered what our friends in New York were doing. 

Before long, we heard voices. A pair of boys came hopping up the rocks, with bare feet and blue towels slung over the shoulders. They carried plastic containers that held bright pink bars of soap, and the sort of bristly scrubbing brushes I’d only previously seen in kitchen sinks. They greeted us, beaming, with words we didn’t understand. Soon, as more and more people began to arrive at the stream, we realized they must be coming from the surrounding tea plantations. They’d been working all day, and this was their time to bathe. 

We wondered if we were intruding. But each time another face appeared over the rocks, it was smiling, or laughing, or gesturing for us to come stand under the falls. We were welcome, and I felt sorry for assuming we’d be regarded as a nuisance.

A while later, as we pulled away on our bike - waving goodbye to the group that had gathered on the rocks - I noticed a little girl, sitting on the roof of a house on the hillside, her chin resting on the top of her knee. She was almost completely hidden from view - I might not have noticed at all if I hadn’t been watching birds in the trees - but there she was. She called something after us as we rode by, but her voice was lost in a surge of wind.

I waved, she waved. I smiled, she smiled. 

That was enough.


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You can find my previous POV entries, here, and the archive for my personal essay column on the Equals Record, here. Thank you so much for reading. Photo via my Instagram.
 

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