POV: Seen.

Friday, April 18, 2014

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.
--

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.  

--

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.


--
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.

15 comments:

Sarah Noel said...

Beautiful. Love these thoughts.

I remember having a thought like this crossing the street in London. I'd been living there for months and it was all becoming home, but commonplace. One day I found myself a bit lost--someplace I'd not seen yet!--and I was caught up in confusion while crossing a street. It was strange to be bumping into all of these people, shoulder to shoulder, stepping on toes, not avoiding bodies but certainly avoiding eye contact. I was anything but alone, but that's just what I felt.

Strange what makes us feel connected.

(But speaking of, would you believe that when Trev and I left a few weeks ago, the woman we sat next to at the airport was a board member from The Brooklyn Waldorf School! I'd just gotten done telling Trevor of our conversation and it was like she just appeared, confirming your suggestion and our interest. So maybe we are connected in unseen ways!)

Cary said...

wonderful writing. so pure.

burntfeather said...

lovely lovely lovely, a nice reminder to value connections we have with people even if tiny and to reach out and make them happen. It's far too easy to go the cold shoulder route and so easy when society leans this way as well.

Rachel said...

I almost always wear headphones when I'm walking around LA, unless I'm just going up the block for something. I'm still trying to figure out exactly why it is I think I need them. One too many awkward social interactions, perhaps? It's weird how those win out over the many pleasant interactions I've had as well. Lovely per usual, m'dear.

Raquel R. said...

Your words capture brilliantly the sometimes fleeting moments in life.

PAW! said...

i don't bump into people so i don't have a problem.
oh wait. yes i do.

girlseeksplace said...

Lovely, as always. I find myself getting annoyed with crowds, too. I get frustrated when things seem to take an inordinately long time.

Anonymous said...

Love this.

Shoko said...

Thank you so much for reading!

Sarah, yes! And that's so funny about Waldorf! We are indeed connected!

Rachel, thank you! I always wear headphones when I'm walking around, too. On the odd day that I forget, I'm always struck by the sounds I miss out on a day-to-day basis. It's a good reminder to stay present!


max said...

bravo. lovely and beautiful, as always.

Akiko said...

Beautiful writing as always. I felt like I was in NYC and Sri Lanka for a while while reading (as always). You are so gifted! xo akiko
Style Imported

stateandoccupation.com said...

I hear you. For someone who's not an introvert- I sure act introverted.
Love your writing, as usual.

Dakota
www.stateandoccupation.com (Formerly dakotabee!)

Loulou said...

Every word savored with my morning coffee. You are such a gifted writer, with descriptions that take your readers to the very spot where they first happened.

Shoko said...

Thank you so much, everyone. Really means so much to me to have such amazing readers.

Marie said...

I love all the POV stories. The writing is lovely and nourishing.

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