I ran into three people I know in the span of six miles while riding my bike last evening. What are the chances of that, especially with many people staying home because of you, know, the thing? Well, I’ve been in Austin, Texas for 20 years and 16 days. So I have met plenty of people in that time. These three encounters got me to thinking about acquaintances, friends, colleagues, bona fides – in short, the other humans who comprise my community. At a time when the fabric of society is being shredded, while some people sew face masks, what does it mean to be homo sapiens? As George Costanza put it in a Seinfeld episode, “We’re living in a society, here!”
The first in my trio of random encounters was with a fellow volunteer with Bike Austin, who lives around here somewhere. She was a follower of this blog and may still be. It was nice to see her out on a bike ride with a mask, which like mine was down since we were far enough apart. She asked how I was and I asked her the same; she’s well, doing her job, but from home. We parted and wished each other well.
The second happenstance was interesting because I detoured to avoid some people walking on a sidewalk of a busy street with no bike lanes. I almost circled back to continue on that path, but instead had the notion to make a little detour to add half a mile. I recognized him by his gait and stature; he is a mechanic who still owns the shop I frequented back when I had a car, he was my guy. (Read my post “15 Years NOT a Slave to Cars.”)
I happen to know he lives in the neighborhood I just moved from, so it wasn’t that bizarre to see him out walking with his wife. As I passed, I slowed down to say hello I pulled down my mask from a safe distance so he could recognize me. He always says, “I hope you have a good day,” so I beat him to the punch and wished them that for the rest of their walk. I suppose I could have stopped for a chat but was heading to the store and didn’t have much to say beyond that.
The third encounter was even a bit spookier because I was thinking “I wonder if I’ll run into a third person I know, since that would make an interesting blog.” Actually, I expected it. Call it a hunch or male intuition. And sure enough, soon after that thought, I saw a guy I worked with for a brief time. He was outside his house with his dog, a Corgi, tending to his yard. (He was working, not the dog.) I didn’t know where he lived but there he was.
We chatted a bit and the dog ran up to me several times for a sniff and a pet. I asked her name and he said Circuit. Like the 1980’s movie Short Circuit, but since she’s a short breed he left the first word off. I remembered that little movie about a robot had one of my teenage crushes, Ally Sheedy (who was also in Breakfast Club). Anyway, he and I might be in touch, though we didn’t exchange emails or phone numbers, he said “You know where I live!”
It would be easy to say it was fate, or a deity, or otherwise somehow a grander plan at work. I’m rather agnostic on that sort of thing. While I want to believe, ascribing some deeper meaning to coincidence is better left for the more spiritual. Still, it was kind of neat, and yet in the end I don’t think it will lead to much. But it did give me a warm fuzzy feeling. I do have some history here, some connections, a bit of belonging to this place and some of its people. That’s not a bad thing as a single dude whose family are in other cities. Wendell Berry the ecologist once wrote you can only true know and care about a handful of people anyway.
Would any of those three people notice or care if I were to stop living here (or living at all)? Probably not since we’re just acquaintances. But as a part of the whole, one never knows one’s impact on others, or the future. Maybe the first might be a connection to getting my book published (she’s in that industry, though not the right part for me). The second might have a car for me to buy should I ever need one for work (as much as I’d rather not and it’s moot anyway; can one be fathlete and a starving artist simultaneously? I think so.) And the last could be a connection to a future place for me to live or something professionally. I know where he lives so I guess I could pop by.
It’s good to know people, even if you don’t know them well. I think I’d enjoy meeting a number of the people I’ve met through blogging. Maybe some day that can happen. We will leave our abodes and it will be relatively safe to do so. We can be within a normal social distance of the mail carrier, the store clerk, band member, or the soccer teammate. We’ll shake our neighbors’ hands, hug our friends, and kiss our family members. And perhaps we’ll know better that everyone — and their story — matters to someone, at least to themselves. While we may feel like we are alone, and it sounds trite, it’s no less true: we are not alone. And yes, George, we are all living in a society here. Let’s start acting like it, okay, people?
No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. MEDITATION XVII Devotions upon Emergent Occasions By John Donne
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