The Obvious: Sharing Everything with Strangers

“The Obvious” is a new series in which I explore phenomena and facts that have just struck me in the face or delivered a boot to the bottom, but which is really just stating the obvious.

As a ten-year-old traveling through Montana and Wyoming on a family cross country trip I vigilantly sought someone familiar from back home in every forest and every mountain I walked. I don’t know why I did this. Perhaps it was the first time I’d been that far from home and curious if it was a small world after all? Or if everyone really was a stranger? At some point I stopped looking for people I know during my travels. Probably because I never saw anyone I knew and also because scanning every passing face for a familiar one is a sure way to miss the sights in a new place. Also because if my world consists of approximately 300 – 500 people I would recognize in passing in the woods of Wyoming, then the world is essentially full of strangers.

I’ve yet to run into someone I know while traveling in other cities/countries. Actually, false. In 2007 I spotted someone from McGill University in Boston Commons (which doesn’t count because it was just some dude from Trinidad with a reputation who I “knew of” but did not know).  And in 2009 I met someone from my hometown  sitting on a curb in a small town in Cappadocia, Turkey to take my friend and I back to Istanbul, but this is not so hard to do. And actually the same friend I was traveling with in Turkey ran into my cousin on the streets in Massachusetts (neither was a resident of the state or town) in 2012, but that was not my experience so it doesn’t count. But I digress.

The point is this: we share (most) everything with strangers. So why am I remarking on this unremarkable fact? Frankly, I’ve forgotten. It’s been six songs of Villagers and I’ve lost the thread for how I was going to eloquently explore / conclude this. I know it hit me through photos. *Taps Nose.* Right. So.

When I see photos of others’ travels that look just like mine, I feel as though I’ve missed an opportunity to collide with that person. That we stood in the same spot, held there by the same heaviness of a monument or striking beauty. That we could have been in one another’s frames or could have caught the same light. But we were not looking into the faces of strangers and even if we were, we would not have recognized each other. The consolation is knowing that if we were to meet and were to share something of our stories, we would find that at different times in the same place we shared everything.

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