"If you had gone to Arlington Memorial..."
"Yeah, it would have been a mental health issue. That's what they call it."
"Yeah, yeah. But that's how these breakdowns start for me."
This was a very matter-of-fact conversation I heard walking across campus yesterday, made all the more surprising by the girl who had the mental health issues. She was thin and pale, with white-blonde hair and a lowered gaze. Everything about her was shrinking, or at least appeared to be, but she was wearing a purple top that billowed in the breeze and sparkled in the sun. The shirt didn't fit her, or what seemed to be the essence of her. I was trying to put it together in my head, all these pieces that didn't seem to make sense together. The quiet demeanor, the loud shirt, the matter-of-fact declarations of mental instability.
It sparked something in me and I spent the rest of the day noticing people. Not just noticing, but making observations, actively trying to figure out if I could understand the person who just walked by me based on what they were presenting to the world alone.
The girl who loped by me in sweats and a t-shirt, hair in a messy bun on her head. The guy with clenched fists in line behind me at the grocery store, tattoos of flames racing up his forearms. The girl in skinny jeans and ballet flats, striped t-shirt and a rope of pearls. The portly man with the work-logo polo shirt buying TV dinners and flowers, waving off the cashier who asked for his reward card. The other guy buying ribs and four large bottles of cheap wine. The older woman who looked unbearably chic and put together in a sleeveless blouse, pencil skirt, and heels. Even sexy. I felt a pang of envy -- she seemed so comfortable in her body.
It's hard not to feel a surge of gratitude when you spend a day really noticing people. All these faces that are so different from yours, all these people with whole worlds contained in them, tiny universes orbiting around each other, edges overlapping for now in this place, standing in line at a grocery store. What a cosmic occurrence this is. In the space between our groceries on the conveyor belt, in the distance between our polite smiles and glancing eye contact, the entire life cycle of a star.