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Humanity

July 2, 2019

It was sunny and a humid 93 degrees as I was driving along Bannister Road and moving slowly through thick traffic. Stopped at a light, I observed the backyard of a townhouse where a middle-aged man was on his knees in the grass with a not-yet-inflates swimming pool spread before him. He was fiddling with the pump to get things going. I don’t know who the pool was for: maybe grandchildren were coming over that evening, maybe he has a dog that needs help cooling off on steamy days, or maybe he just wanted to pull up a lawn chair, soak his feet in the cool water, and relax with a beer. I couldn’t think of a situation with that inflatable swimming pool that didn’t involve some combination of peace and joy, and it made my heart swell with happiness to catch a short glimpse of the good times to come.

I’ve passed her in the halls at work several dozen times. Her bleached short hair, her simple, no-nonsense clothing, earbuds always in place to shut out the world around her. She looks down, no eye contact, expressionless as her mind is lost in whatever she’s listening to, or maybe she’s very unhappy. Everything about her seems closed off from the present moment and I’ve wondered what she does here, if she has friends, and what she’s like outside of the corporate walls. I assume she’s an artist since she’s so independent and I’ve never seen her speak or walk with anyone else. And I laugh at my own stereotype of artists since I am one and know so many that are nothing like my perception of her. I can’t decide if I am worried about her loneliness or jealous of her utter lack of concern with anything going on around her. And then one day it happened. I passed her and saw her light up with a joyful smile, and my heart felt relief. But she wasn’t smiling at me.

The sun had finally come out that mild Saturday morning in May. I had recently finished getting all our garage sale items set back out in the driveway and sat down in my lawn chair. There was the usual mix of random household goods and clothing and toys that our girls no longer needed. A young family walked up, with a two-year-old boy, and he immediately made a beeline for the pink and purple colorful riding toy that Layla got for her first birthday. It was a car with a horn and little piano keys on the front that played different songs. He had barely begun to scoot around on it when his dad grabbed him and said “No son, that’s a girl toy.” And they walked away without purchasing anything.

I was leaving work one evening last Spring, walking through the long halls to get to the parking garage. My head was down, perusing my phone, but in my peripheral vision saw I had to slow to a halt because a man was stopped in the middle of the hallway. When I looked at him I saw him with his phone, pointed at the ceiling, and noticed a skylight there I had never seen before. The sky was blue and bright, with fluffy white clouds slowly passing above. After a long, dreary winter, I too shared his excitement of this unexpected view of the bright blue above. I was happy to slow and give him that moment, and overjoyed to happen upon someone finding beauty in unexpected places.

The concert was several songs into the show, and I observed the young woman slouched on the seat in front of me scrolling through her phone, which continued for much of the show. It was one of my all time favorite bands, and I felt judgmental, almost offended that she would waste a concert ticket to be there on her phone. But later at an interlude, the lead singer addressed the crowd, calling on anyone who’d ever felt different, like an outcast, and struggled to find their place in this world. I saw her take notice for the first time and raise her hand with hundreds of others. He told us all that we mattered, that we were enough, and that we all had something unique and special to offer this world, and then dedicated the next song to the crowd. Her demeanor changed dramatically, from a sullen, apathetic brat to a person who found her tribe. She danced and swayed and hugged those around her, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the show. I felt a pang if guilt for judging her initially, but was filled with gratitude as I watched her blossom in the dark midst of the crowd.

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