This I Believe

Dan - Knoxville, Tennessee
Entered on February 13, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in subtle interactions between complete strangers. An official word has not yet been coined to define that sensation felt when I take part in a fleeting encounter with someone I will never again see during my time on this earth. The exchange doesn’t even need to be a vocal or physical one. A simple nod or smile will do. There is a subliminal acknowledgement that occurs. These moments serve as a reminder that each little human is their own unique entity, though all are linked to a common existence.

Inside, an intricate clock is pacing me. Complex chemical reactions keep my senses absorbing and processing, creating new experience. And I am not alone. Which is to say, I’m the only person hardwired to contemplate what it means to simply get out of bed in the morning, walk out that door, and let the world wash over me. My personal history is a ball of yarn, unraveling and twisting away behind me. It is part of the incomprehensible tangle that forms the collective past of humankind. Those who are closest to me know the most about all the events strung out on my yarn. They understand me best, because they know what I have been through and how those events have shaped the way I see the world. There is comfort in that. It allows me a modicum of disregard for the Bigger Picture—a sort of tunnel vision within the everyday world. Truth is, for every one of these people that I love so much, there are millions of others out there who have no clue about, nor care for my experiences. So, when I walk past a woman weeping over a parking ticket, I may not talk to her, but our lines have crossed. There is magic for me in these instances. The woman might go home to her friends or husband and complain about what an awful day she had. She double-parked for ten minutes and managed to get pegged for a $40 fine. Meanwhile, I have already spiraled off into the rest of my life. I am having dinner with my girlfriend, and in the back of my head is this woman sobbing openly on the street. What was happening to her?

For me, the most curious of these sorts of interactions occur in photographs. For example, I am visiting the Eiffel Tower and go for the obligatory tourist shot of myself standing beneath the giant metal legs. In the background, a man walks by with a scarf around his neck. The shutter snaps and we are tied here to this spot, this moment, forever. My albums are filled with hundreds of such moments. Flipping through the pages, I notice these people I don’t know. Some are attempting to duck out of the shot. Others are intentionally adding themselves into the frame. Making faces. Most are oblivious, like me. Regardless, they are there in the past with me. Strangers are part of my life.