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I watch people. I don’t mean to say I watch out for them. I do that too, but I always mean what I say. I watch them. It’s always been a game of mine, watching them. When I was a little girl and still eagerly awaited my father’s flights home, I would sit in the long, spindly chairs at the airport and watch people there. I would guess who they were waiting for and why they were there. It wasn’t until recently that I realized these people, the ones at the airport, were often at their happiest. That those few moments, saying hello and waving goodbye, were the moments where they felt most alive and most happy. In the minute of pure delight of seeing someone, someone you care about, everything is simple and clear. You see a glow around people, you seen an almost child-like anticipation. In the second it takes to say goodbye (how rare for that to truly happen at an airport!) you see comprehension in a person’s stance. You see understanding—everything becomes simple and clear. On some instinctual level, people understand this is what life is—a big opportunity, one full of hellos and goodbyes. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. It is understood that all you need is your mind and soul and heart to be a worthwhile person. For one shining instant, life is full of light and understanding and the knowledge that this is what it is about. But then the greeting or goodbye kiss is done, the light fades away, and you feel you need to make planes and complicate the issues and don’t forget to rush rush rush!
Now, about 13 years later and much more cynical, I still watch people. My father’s world-wide escapades are done, so no more airport visits for me. My new venue is easier to access and gives me unique opportunities to observe people. Instead of airports and spindly chairs, I sit quietly in an old building at a cushioned booth, watching the people at one of my many jobs. I watch them hastily order ice cream, or meekly push forward their money. No one looks you in the eyes. Beautiful people walk in, dressed in clothing much too expensive for a weekend out. The attire they wear is both costly and colorful, but they don’t make it seem so. Their “How are you”’s are pathetically shallow; their eyes often have a glaze of confusion over them. When their food is brought out, they don’t notice their server—they don’t really seem to notice anything. They have the aura of people who act gay and happy because that’s what they were told they should feel. Their movements are sloppy under the guise of being useful.
With my hot coffee and homework in my arms, I inch closer to a group of college students. Their hollow laughter is cheerful, but they don’t seem to notice that their body is more than a lump of flesh. Movements are completed slowly, as if they are underwater, as if their minds are detached from their physical tools. People like them come in constantly, grating away at my hope for the world.
Another group drips into the store. These people are dressed in grubby sweatpants. Their hair is stringy and dangling in their eyes. Instead of confusion stamped across their features, there is hopelessness. I shrug off their aimless, purposeless chatter and return to reading. These others are just as common. I think that they believe that, no matter what they do, their lives are the lives they will have ‘til death; nothing can be changed or done. Instead of their movements being listless and slow, they are profoundly rushed, buzzing to and fro. I believe they are trying to fill the empty hours of their life with something meaningful.
I don’t believe that these are the only people in the world; it would be foolish to think so. But working at Dairy Queen has taught me that, predominately, these are the people in the world. So those are the ones I watch, those are the ones I record.
I do remember a couple coming into Dairy Queen. When they walked through the door, my back instantly straightened. It had been raining heavily the majority of the day; I noticed that the people who stayed dry had a look of smug satisfaction and the ones who had gotten wet were bitter and weary. But the man and woman, dressed in jeans and sweaters, wore their soaked clothing and hair as though it were merely a part of them. The smugly dry people suddenly looked overdressed. The couple looked at the menu for a minute, their eyes were clear and deep and full of ambition. They quietly ordered two coffees and a basket of fries before taking a seat at a window booth. When I set down their tray and asked if I could get them anything else, they smiled and said no. Both were quickly and efficiently stirring sugar into their coffee. They didn’t talk much; they just smiled at each other and ate. When I came over to clear their table for them, they left me a tip and wink. It is a great pride of mine to say they left happy and satisfied, hand and hand, back into the rain.
I haven’t seen them since that rainy day. Sometimes I wonder if they were travelers from a far and distant place, so different were they from the majority of people you find around here. Truth be told, there are more of the other type of human than there are of those who hold their head high. I’m swamped by them every day—in school, work, and practice. Everywhere I go, the other kind is there. But I wait patiently for evidence that there is another nature of human. I wait for hope and, if I look carefully, I can find it.
Henry David Thoreau said, “Men lead lives of quiet desperation.” In watching people, I have observed that most people do. But I also know there are some that live in their own airport, who recognize all the potential and beauty and individuality in their own souls, who will change and carry the world on their shoulders. They are the ones I wish to be like; they are the giants I want to stand with. It is the memory of that couple and my airport forays that have taught me which nature of human I want to be.
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