Saturday, February 10, 2007

Watching Strangers

The two women were deep in a quiet conversation. Thirty-ish, they had an early morning look although it was almost exactly noon -- but it was Saturday. Their hair looked uncombed, they wore no makeup. The blond was doing most of the talking. The brunet put a hand on her friend's knee and rubbed it. The blond put a hand in a coat pocket and pulled out a wadded tissue and dabbed at her eyes and nose. The brunet put an arm around her shoulder for a brief moment and talked to the blond with urgency in her face.

We were on the subway, I was about eight feet away, they spoke only to each other and I doubt the people nearest could hear what was being said. A scenario about lovers breaking up began in my head. I didn't want to stare so I looked around the car a moment as a tall, largish black woman dressed as homeless people often dress, layers of dirty looking clothes, a dirt colored hat pulled down over her head, moved in and sat opposite me. Lost in her world she did not see me, or anyone else, it seemed.

When I looked back at the couple, as I had to do, the blond was speaking; her animation had increased, as if her mood had shifted to a cheerier one. The brunet sipped from her tall Starbuck's styrofoam cup, did not meet the blond's eyes, looked across the car, her longish face grew longer, then she took a tissue from somewhere and wiped her eyes and nose. The blond kept talking but did not reach out to touch.

The homeless woman across from me rubbed her belly; I couldn't tell, because of her overall size and layers of clothes whether she was pregnant -- it was a pregnant woman's gesture but could mean a stomach ache

The pair had reached some accommodation; they talked with less intensity but still concentrated only on one another.

I cannot know what their story was. I don't need to know. On a cold winter Saturday morning both were sad; perhaps they shared the sadness, perhaps they caused one another's sadness. Meanwhile the possibly pregnant woman seemed to be alone and in need of personal care. A Buddhist practice exists called buddichita, [probablly misspelled] in which the practitioner attempts to take others' suffering in with each breath and project his/her inner peace with each exhalation; this is sometimes directed at individuals and sometimes at all sensate being if I understood what I read. I can understand the impulse to do that. However I have no ability to do any such thing; I am a watcher. Perhaps that is a step in the right direction, I hope so.

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