Monday, January 25, 2016

Window to the Soul

I live in a rural town west of Seattle and when I need to go into the city, which I don't very often, I take the ferry. The weather today was sunny and mostly blue-sky, therefore, an unseasonably perfect Pacific Northwest day for a brisk three-mile walk to my appointment. Skirting around a seemingly endless construction project with multitudes of ginormous pieces of equipment blocking all reasonable efforts to stop for a cup of chowder at Ivar's Acres of Clams, I decided to head straight up the hill away from the water. My only other option was to pretend I was a character in The Maze Runner and risk being attacked by something with razor-sharp metal claws, and never find my way back to the ferry! 

Okay, so that's a bit dramatic. The truth is that something dramatic happens to me whenever I walk in downtown Seattle, or any city for that matter. I subconsciously and immediately shift into I-wonder-what-their-story-is mode. It's a curse. Most people walk passed me so quickly that my brain barely has time to imagine anything about their personal story. But I try anyway. Sadly, my imagination is thwarted by the brutal evidences of homelessness, addictions, filth, and moral decay. I'm reminded that although it's usually unwise to make assumptions, I can certainly determine that every person I pass by is probably dealing with something very difficult in their own life. Something heart-wrenching or grueling. Something utterly overwhelming. Something out of their control. Or something terrible and tragic that just happened and they don't even know it yet. Whatever it is, they're still there, walking in the middle of the city, in the middle of life, in the middle of bustling to get wherever they're going. Or still holding a cardboard sign and sleeping in the alley. 

Then I get this insatiable desire to step out from behind the bubble of my own personal space, the hazy window of my own perspective, and somehow try to read each persons' remarkable story. Since I'm not a psychic, I figure the least I can do is try an experiment. So I stand up taller, pick up my pace, and purposefully focus on the person coming my way. With only a half-smile on my face, so as not to appear bubbly or annoying, I think kind and compassionate thoughts about that person, sending them wishes for something good to appear in their life. But most people are in too much of a hurry or too preoccupied to notice that I'm trying to make eye contact with them. 

After I'd walked for thirty minutes and passed hundreds of people, I counted only a handful of those who bothered to look directly at me. Amazingly, in the brief moments when our eyes met, there was an undeniable connection between two strangers. I felt something almost magical pass through me. Perhaps it was merely a hope that a smile was just what that person needed. And what I needed. But I'm convinced it was more. It was as if the window to our souls opened briefly, and we acknowledged that we share the same cool, salty air. It was a breeze of understanding between us...a realization that everyone's story is difficult, but a smile can make it more worthwhile. 


  1. I love doing this also. I can sit for hours watching people, pondering what their story is. I even do it when I'm driving down the street. I'll think, "I wonder who that woman in that Corolla is. Where has she just come from? Where will she end up this evening?" I also like to imagine that another person (a cashier, or fellow shopper) is somehow the Most Important Person in the universe, and I am merely a blip in the course of their life. So I try my hardest to make myself a positive, useful blip. :) I love sharing planet earth with so many amazing humans.

  2. I like that term "useful blip"! One small way I try to do that is making note of the name tag of a cashier or someone assisting me, and thanking them by their name.