I approach the food bin next to the one she is pulling from and wait. Her head moves slowly to turn and look at me as if I am laying audacious claim to her territory and resources. Standing there with several inches between us the smell of entitlement is stronger than the smell of bacon.
Is it the food, I wonder. Something about the chemistry. Or is it the little quiet moments she’s grown accustomed to stealing at the breakfast bar before the morning rush? My encroachment like an invader upon an invader, like America. Like humankind.
Standing there without a hurry in my bones, I remember Southern India. There, I feel like part of an undulating organism connected to every other human body near me. There, the boundaries I grew up with here in the West, where people steak personal claim to the air they breathe with invisible flags, dissolve.
There, the lines of separation are different. A man sleeps on the street with bare, dirty feet and his head in a box, and women in crisp, shining saris parade passed him without so much as a scurry to their steps. They do not turn towards the man, nor do they turn away. They just walk. They just are, as everything else is. There is no denial or argument with what is, at least in my outsider’s eyes.
Of course, there is always more to the story than surfaces can reveal. There are class issues everywhere there are people and money. The woman getting her food in the morning may have hidden trauma that makes her barricade her heart and need more personal space than most. Perhaps silence is her attempt at softening that for me. The ladies in saris in India may have spoken quiet cruelties to each other about the man in the box once he was out of sight. (Whispers and silence can make people think they are being kinder than they are).
Then again, maybe the woman at breakfast only feels competition from her privileged station, and maybe the women in saris said a prayer of compassion in their hearts for the homeless man. And maybe the homeless man felt right at home.
What do we know, really, from how things appear?
Mostly, I see beauty and suffering everywhere often and in varying degrees. Contrast and juxtaposition render aspects clearer at a given time. Like green plants growing out of cracks in cement clarify the perseverance of life or the confines of man. Or like a filthy child with the clearest, brightest eyes you’ve ever seen, selling handmade jewelry on the street in South America to make money for her family instead of going to school, can clarify the tenacity of survival or the ravages of globalization.
The woman’s dirty look at breakfast might clarify privilege’s contortions or pain’s mutations. And I smile at her in silence and clarify either total ignorance of her experience or the kindness of a perfect stranger. Or nothing at all, because she didn’t see the smile.
And perhaps we reach for everything with urgency because we don’t see that every moment is everything, all at once. Maybe one day there will be no boundaries or barriers and then everywhere and everyone and everything can be whole and shared.
Maybe lines will disappear and color is all that will remain. Every color moving in and out of each other to make a new color, spectral and changing, and more alive than anything we’ve seen yet. And it will be fantastic and beautiful, even without the contrast that boundaries provide and all the art born from it.
Then again, maybe people will always fight for land and draw lines in the sand. I think I will draw circles, then.
Copyright © 2019, Sheiora Danu
Photo by Jonnysek