Sunday, January 9, 2011

Over The Shoulder

There's something intriguing about the little snippets of other people's lives. A few words of a cell phone conversation, the book they're reading on the train, strains of a song emanating from too loud headphones, glimpses of a computer screen. Today was one of those days. My dad, my brother, and I went out to coffee with a friend of my dad's from high school. The place we went is a quick walk from our house. It's a funky coffeehouse/ restaurant/ lounge kind of place, with couches and tables and a lot of people working on computers, reading, or chatting with friends. There's always a great mix of people in there- young, old, be-suited and in jeans and plaid flannel shirts, heels, running shoes, Mohawks and cornrows. Because it's a pretty open seating plan, it's easy to end up sitting next to someone on the same couch, across the same table, or with their chair opposite yours. It's also easy to eavesdrop a little on other people's lives.

About halfway through my chai, a young Asian guy took an armchair right against the couch I was sitting on. I didn't pay much attention until he took out a laptop and began to type. Naturally, I glanced over his shoulder to see what he was doing. What appeared on the screen looked like the beginning of a story, clearly fiction, about someone named Gabriel, after the angel Gabriel who told Mary she was pregnant, because the character was born on Christmas. I was immediately pulled in, and wanted to read more, but I couldn't. In the almost half an hour between the time he sat down and we left, he had about 4 sentences. I watched him change that little tiny snip of a paragraph about six times, each time in a different way. There was one sentence he wrote that I particularly liked, but he deleted it.

That deletion almost convinced me to tap him on the shoulder and say "Hey. That was really good. Keep it." But I didn't. Most people don't appreciate being accosted by random strangers about their work. Especially if that stranger is reading over your shoulder.

I wish the world worked like that. I love talking to random people, even though I'm shy, and I wish I could just tap people on the shoulder and talk to them about what they're working on. With more open communication, the world might end up being a better place. And that one difference in the sentence might make or break whatever he was writing. You never know. Sometimes all it takes is one comment to change destiny, fate, or whatever you want to call it. At least that's how it should be.

We make choices every day, some simple and some more complex. With everything we do, we influence others. Each little snippet our of our day, witnessed by someone else, can set off a chain reaction of unprecedented events. Just something to think about.

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