The Pleasure of Crossing Paths with Strangers

My brother realized to swim when he was 5, in a giant pool with numerous different youngsters splashing for consideration. The teacher was a teen-ager, in all probability, however she would have appeared like an grownup. After the teachings, he began seeing her in all places. Mentioning the automobile window: there she is! Holding up a photograph within the native newspaper: it’s her!

That was love, after all. And we’re fortunate it may be so bizarre: that it may occur within the milk-and-juice aisle; you can be sure it’s throughout the subway platform—don’t look now; that each stranger can, for a break up second, develop into the one individual on this planet. The primary boy I fell in love with wore a purple ski jacket, and that winter was flashes of shade. Purple within the nook of my eye, purple making my head flip repeatedly.

This has at all times been my favourite factor about New York. There is no such thing as a motive to run into anybody right here—there are greater than eight million of us—however in some way it occurs on a regular basis. A number of years in the past, there was a child I generally commuted with. If I boarded the primary subway automobile in Manhattan slightly after seven, or perhaps slightly earlier than (it will have jinxed it to be too exact), she’d already be there, face pressed into her mother’s sweater, a darkish whorl of hair going through the remainder of us. In one other, barely smaller metropolis, an aged man as soon as broke into a smile as he approached me from the other way on a busy sidewalk. He pointed.


I’d by no means seen him earlier than.

“From the morning bus!” he stated.

This previous yr, our lives receded from the locations the place these sorts of encounters occur. The subways emptied out. The espresso store introduced that “lingering” was not allowed. There have been partitions between tables and features that snaked across the block, in order that the entrance by no means noticed the again. Operating into somebody would have damaged all the principles.

So perhaps it is smart that I couldn’t cease in search of everybody, in all places. I texted a good friend: Was that you simply with the tote bag, within the rain, crossing Classon Avenue? It was somebody together with your posture, I assured him, and this discovery felt like intimacy: to establish—even to misidentify—somebody by the best way they walked. I moved out of my residence, and noticed my previous roommate pedalling a purple bike up a hill. However she didn’t personal a motorbike. I saved pondering I’d seen the ex who hadn’t spoken to me in months (now greater than a yr), as a result of doesn’t the highest half of so many faces, the half not obscured by a masks, look slightly bit the identical? (The identical ex as soon as informed me that I appeared in each crowd: “Have you learnt how many individuals have brown hair?”)

Because the pandemic winds down right here, there are lots of plans to make: folks to go to, folks to ask inside, journeys that really feel like pilgrimages. Nonetheless, it’s the unplanned that I miss most—and that I’m determined to get again. There’s a Robert Frost poem, referred to as “Assembly and Passing,” which captures one thing about why these glancing moments endure. The poem describes two folks strolling towards one another. One among them is climbing a hill; the opposite is coming down. They see one another, they cease and converse. There may be nothing particularly momentous about it:

 . . . However all

We did that day was mingle nice and small

Footprints in summer season mud as if we drew

The determine of our being lower than two

However multiple as but.

This isn’t a poem in regards to the wonders of connection—that factor we’ve all been lacking, and are hoping is correct across the nook. Listed here are two individuals who meet, however don’t merge. We don’t know why: there could be some previous looming behind them, or some future calling them urgently. Or perhaps they’re simply strangers. However it’s by not merging, by merely passing, that they see issues anew:

Afterward I went previous what you had handed

Earlier than we met, and also you what I had handed.

That is apparent, and nearly pointless to explain. And but it’s exceptional, too—a cartography of a shared world that doesn’t insist on bringing everybody collectively. In parting methods, we’re nonetheless imparting one thing of ourselves: go forward; go look; go see what I’ve seen.

There are, inevitably, reunions forward that may disappoint us in a method or one other. Awkward pauses in conversations, by which you’ll start to see variations that you simply by no means observed earlier than. And wider gaps, too—those created by grief (and even pleasure) that another person won’t ever perceive. So I discover myself nearly unspeakably moved by this poem and what it reminds us to do. Meet one another, cross one another. Wave throughout the platform and carry on transferring. You’ll take one thing with you anyway.

A pair months in the past, not fairly a yr after my grandfather died, my mother despatched me an image that she’d seen within the newspaper. Doesn’t this look identical to Papa? The reality: no, it didn’t actually, apart from a number of apparent similarities (the white hair, the jowls). However, after all, that wasn’t the purpose in any respect.

And also you what I had handed. I used to hate the euphemism of the phrase “handed away.” Why not say the starker fact? However right here we’re, wanting again and searching ahead, crossing paths with individuals who we all know have lengthy since gone their very own approach. There and there and there.

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