Friday, June 13, 2014

Bridging Boundaries

Over the last two months I’ve had two instances where I was struck dumb by the peculiar constraints of our society... completely separate incidents where I shared a moment with a stranger that resonated deeply.

So deeply, in fact, that I longed to step closer and embrace them.

Yes, a hug.

And yet... I didn’t.

This desire to embrace a stranger—in one case my airline seatmate, in the other a local dog walker who is little more than an acquaintance—was so strong and so poignant that it’s been tumbling in my brain ever since. This unfulfilled action has left me uncomfortable; as if I’ve let them down somehow. Logically I know this is not true.

And yet...

The first instance (my airline seatmate on my way home from JordanCon in April—hi, Gabe!) was clearer cut in terms of whether a hug would be well-received (I believe yes), and yet societal norms would certainly deem it over-stretching my boundaries (he was a complete and utter stranger).

Gabe is a gentleman who two hours earlier had never before crossed my path, and likely never will again in my lifetime. Traveling for business, he exuded the type of bubbly positivity and self-deprecating humour one adopts as a terminal realist, a trait instantly recognizable to me.

Over the course of our flight we spoke nonstop. First chitchat, then topics of grander scope; oddly the type of soulful conversations that rarely emerge in everyday life. In a winding way we touched upon everything from meeting our spouses, the trials of parenting, the depth of emotional ties to people we used to know, and more.

We share the philosophy that life introduces you to people for a purpose. By the end of the flight he had decided I was a lesson to him in proactive healthcare in regards to genetic conditions. From him I learned (again) that life is always more complex, that the universe is ironic in its humour, and that sometimes people whom society classifies as victims will never stop being heroes.

We kept talking straight up until we deplaned, and walked together to customs before having to separate—he being a US citizen, and myself entering my home country of Canada. We stood saying our polite goodbyes at the entrance of a maze of retractable queue dividers, suddenly awkward. We grinned at each other, thanked each other, and I’m certain we were both viscerally aware that hanging in the silence between us was the expectant and natural inclination to hug farewell.

Yet we were strangers mere hours before.

Despite this brief yet resonating secret-sharing friendship, I clutched my carry on bag and purse, grateful for full arms, said a final goodbye and tottered off down my customs queue.

I regret that I didn’t hug Gabe.

The second instance was less clear in terms of society’s customary distance.

Isaac (sure, we’ll call him that) is my favourite dog walker (there’s a quiet competition for the title—though the only prize you win is that of me gabbing your ear off on a semi-regular basis). Since we moved in almost four years ago he has habitually been found traipsing our street with his black lab, an infectiously sunny attitude, and a level of sarcastic humour that impresses as much as it tickles me. Through friendly chats we’ve learned a bit about each other, including that we share the creative bug (me for writing, him for composing music), as well as an alarming gift for gab. (Turns out his wife was also one of my home care nurses in 2012. Small world.)

For much of the spring, Isaac has been missing. Mr Lannis and I noted it, but because our neighbourhood is increasingly more developed and the number of people using the now house-lined-street-but-used-to-be-empty-fields as a dog park have petered out, we figured Isaac had chosen to take his dog somewhere else for their daily constitutionals. 

This was half right.

Not long ago I was in the yard when down the sidewalk came Isaac and his lab in their customary saunter. To which I began to engage in our customary small talk, including razzing him about his absence of late.

Turns out he’d be hospitalized for three weeks due to a health crisis—an aneurysm, to be exact (though the details of which I’ll keep to myself since it’s not my story to tell), and has been recovering slowly ever since.

And yet again, a mild conversation morphed into something more right before my eyes. Genuinely concerned, I politely inquired while apologizing for prying (if it were considered such), and he graciously answered my questions without glossing up the facts or watering down the severity of his treatment and subsequent prognosis.

He shared with me his struggles to cope in the aftermath, giving me a picture of the devastation this event had had on his quality of life. It was a real conversation, one with depth you’d not expect to receive from a person who regularly walks your sidewalk with a quick wink and a cheery hello.

It was frightening to hear, especially as a fellow migraine sufferer. Having axed breast cancer, the next likely critical health hazard to befall me would be an aneurysm. Isaac and I spoke quietly of the direction of his recovery, and I longed to ask if he was composing again, or if that were even a possibility on his horizon. I’m not sure if he saw it shining in my eyes, but the tragic air about him quieted the question on my lips.

When it was time for him to move along—his canine friend was insisting—I stood there numbly.

I wanted to hug him.

And yet other than a handful of sentences every week or so, I barely know him.

Social convention said it was weird. That I was weird, for wanting to step across the invisible line that separates us humans and admit that we’re all of us similar and in need of compassion. Because that’s exactly what held me—requesting a hug would have allowed him to decline if he hadn't been comfortable with it, but no, there were those invisible ties of social convention, keeping me from comforting another person for no other reason than it’s kind of weird and he might not accept a hug from you, you weird stranger-hugging hippie.


Instead, I took a step back, breaking the spell, and asked him to please pass along my pleasantries to his wife.

But it bugs me. It reminded me anew of Gabe, and the two incidents kicked up turmoil within me.

And let’s admit it here: I’m not one to have difficulties speaking with strangers—given the proper opening and a moment or two, I usually receive a laugh for a joke or walk away with a good story about how I freaked out another person with my sarcastic, quirky humour. So for me to be frozen on the edge of acting, unsure of whether to leap or stand still is an uncomfortable place for me.

It bothers me.

I’m more at ease making my way through social interactions with good-natured bumbling and mocking my own self-awareness.

To stand and do nothing, then walk away...? It unsettles me.

In both instances the children of these gentlemen would be my contemporaries, but that wasn’t the part of social convention holding me back. In fact, both treated me as my own father would have—as an intelligent person capable of holding meaningful conversations, not as a potential partner. In truth, I can admit I’ve shared philosophical and moving insights with both these men who have generously shared wisdom of lives I never will live.

I have been given a gift.

I think that’s my innate issue with this...  I was given a gift, and I did not thank them properly.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Keep my glass full...

I haven't been very active on here lately, but no worries--I'm still kicking around, but my brain has been occupied with things other than bloggity-blogging.

One of which being this particular earworm... so I'm sharing.

If you've managed to avoid being introduced to Sia's song "Chandelier" and the jarring finesse of 10-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler's performance in the video, well... I'll apologize in advance for enabling.

Seriously. Addicting. I can't simply listen to it in the background on the laptop, I must stare at the video every time it plays... it's that goddamn mesmerizing.

And I love everything about this video--the swells of music, the unconventional majesty of Sia's voice, the identifiable lyrics, the bleak setting, the awkward-yet-graceful movements, the spin of Maddie's platinum wig...


Even the petal pink paint and indecipherable scribbles on her hands intrigue more than annoy.


Hell, the melodrama of this entire package somehow avoids feeling contrived and functions so seamlessly as a powerful and haunting message of mental instability that I adore it all to itty bitty bits.

I've even watched Sia and Maddie's live performance on The Ellen Show multiple times, too, just to watch Maddie's spellbinding dance from another perspective.

Serious time suckage here, folks. An intervention might be required.