The distances between us and the people in the world around us can be measured in different ways. In the inches, miles and nations that divide us. Even more so, in the thoughts, loves, and fears that separate us. Picture the last time you sat in that crowded theater, commuter train, or 747. A cargo of strangers, eyes front, who preferred to keep it that way.
Then something like Hurricane Sandy hits. Or any sudden natural disaster. How quickly those protected distances between us vanish. How much we want them to vanish. Need them to vanish. Whenever we’re caught in the claws of the sudden and the frightening, our first instincts are to reach out and know we’re not alone in this.
Our philosophers often report on the grim reality of our anonymous little existences. Each a small blip on the great screen of the cosmos, which appears all alone and eventually disappears all alone. Along the way it’s only when our blips bump into other blips that our existence crackles with meaning. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, lovers, children. And yet how persistent we are in protecting ourselves from anyone beyond those tight circles.
The operative word here is: Strangers. Every impulse in our nature shuts when we meet them. Who are these people…? what makes them so different from me…? why do they look like they’re judging me…? how can you ever trust a stranger…? you can’t…! I mustn’t…! I won’t…!
There will be thousands of frightened people just like you and me who will quite suddenly get to know one another this week. In the rain. in the dark. in the drama. Total strangers who will become the closest of friends, even saviors. “Thank god for you, I’ll never forget you…”Ahh but you will. And they will. The magic of the moment that squeezed your individual lives into something somehow greater than the total of the parts, well, it passed. The rains stopped. the waters receded. the lights came back on.
Now it’s back to the way we were. Strangers, in a world that can no longer afford having so many strangers.
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