You know those moments that people tell stories about? The ones that Christian authors use to impart spiritual lessons, and pastors do it too, to the point where it’s almost annoying. You want to say “Not everything has to be a lesson, man!”
Well, I have one of those stories tonight.
I’ve been taking the bus to college, as you know. (Sounds like the title of an article doesn’t it?) And last night I noticed something as I got on: I tapped my pass and the driver said “Thank you.”
I thought “Why’s he thanking me? He’s the one putting in hours of his life doing a really boring job that no one appreciates him for, though they should because I sure as heck don’t have the patience to be a bus driver.”
I know the driver just meant to be friendly. That was what struck me. He wasn’t being polite, just friendly. Trying to make the rather isolated situation a little more comfortable.
To the best of his efforts, since we aren’t allowed to talk to bus drivers unnecessarily. Of course I know that’s for safety reasons, but what a lonely way to make a living if you can hardly even talk to the people you see all day. And you don’t have a co-worker there to cheer you up either.
I feel awkward just in the 12-15 minutes I spend on the bus not knowing anyone.
I’m pretty sure way back when the public transportation thing got going, there wasn’t a rule about talking to the driver. And I’m certain that other passengers at least used to talk to each other. It’s sad to see all the young students on the bus make awkward eye contact with each other, but bury themselves in their phones rather than strike up a conversation.
We’ve been raised with the idea that talking to strangers is bad, and dangerous, and worst of all, unnecessary. That’s the killer isn’t it? We feel that as long as we have our electronic transactions, we don’t need to talk. even bus passes are just card stickers now, no eye contact is even required.
And I see this, and I think to myself, we’re so lonely. We’re just starving to connect with each other.
It’s not that we want to connect on some soul level with every human we meet. I think we want to feel part of their world, just as they, in a small way, are part of ours. We might never see them again, but they were people, and we were interested in them just because of that.
Though most of us would agree general kindness is a good thing, very few of us stop to think what common courtesy and kindness require, that you care. That you see other people as beings who shape your world and are in it and whom you owe some recognition just as they owe you some, because that’s what it is to be human.
To be ignored is perhaps the most inhuman of practices that we do on a regular basis, and I think we feel it deep down, we know something’s not right.
When I do happen to strike up a conversation with someone I don’t know, I always feel it’s a bit of an awkward trade off. You ask the culturally acceptable small talk questions, (which have been disdained by the more withdrawn folks of society, but are in place for a very good reason) but you don’t really feel like you can trust them. Still you try to make things more comfortable by being more familiar, because somehow we feel less afraid when we know someone, even if it’s just their name. Even if they didn’t tell it to us, we just heard them called by it.
We yearn to know things about each other. I don’t think it’s just busybodies who feel that way. It’s everyone. We’ve all looked at a particular stranger and wondered what their life was like, and we wish we could be in it somehow, because maybe we’d find something there that’s missing in our own world.
I’m not the first to think of this, there’s an insightful essay called Strangers by Toni Morrison that I recommend you check out.
What the bus driver, and myself by my slight smile and nod in response, are trying to do is reestablish something we feel we’ve lost.
My question is, is it just this generation that’s lost it? Or have people felt this way ever since we left Eden? I see something of it it Cain’s plea to God after he is sentenced to wander the earth. “Anyone who finds me will kill me,” as if he doesn’t know who that anyone might be.
Abraham said “I am a stranger in a strange land” but he still tried to have peace with some of the land’s inhabitants.
Being strangers and being estranged don’t seem to be the same thing. One is a fact of life because we can’t know everyone, the other is a deliberate choice to be shut off from the rest of the world.
In that sense, the person like me who has spent most of her days at home may yet be less a stranger to others then the person who closes them-self off to feeling or knowing anything about them.
I think we are hungry as a whole to reconnect somehow, but we don’t know the secret. I think technology has only provided the mask to hide behind so that we no longer know this, people used to know that being strangers was a sad thing.
Until next time–Natasha
(P. S. Watch for a new movie review in the next week or so, I’m planning on doing a DCOM.)