When Worlds Collide


Earth Impact Explosion From Space courtesy of Victor Habbick_FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A few weeks ago, I was a guest at a wedding and was surprised to see a familiar face amongst the security guards at the reception venue. At first my brain couldn’t place where I knew the man from, then it clicked. I walk past him almost every day on my commute to work. Actually, that’s putting it lightly. I do more than walk past him; I have become an unwitting observer of his life. I know what his wife and kids look like because I’ve seen him pushing his daughter in her pram with the rest of his family walking alongside. My mastery of European languages is poor but I think he’s Polish because I’ve heard him speaking to his wife a couple of times. This might not be a lot of information but it’s plenty to know about someone I’ve never spoken to.

This is probably why my brain couldn’t reconcile seeing him in a completely different context on that Saturday afternoon. Family man, yes. Security guard telling people to move away from the entrance, no. The question that came to mind after the shock of seeing him was “what’s the etiquette in that kind of scenario?” If I’ve noticed him over the last year or so, there is a chance he’s noticed me too. Did he recognise me? Has he built up an impression of me that I shattered when he saw me all dolled up and happy (I’m known for my unsmiling face on my way into work)? I guess I’ll never know.

The incident got me thinking about other people I see on my commute; people I feel I know, without having spoken a word to them. I occasionally walk past the BBC entertainment correspondent Lizo Mzimba and each time I have to stop myself from running up to him, screaming “I saw you at the Oscars” or “You were on BBC Breakfast yesterday morning”. Apart from the fact that I’d freak him out and probably get arrested for harassment, I’m too scared to even try.

My most infuriating commuting “non-friend” is a girl who works two buildings away from me. I bump into her on the bus outside my flat and we ride along in silence till we get to the tube station. We walk all the way down the platform and board the same carriage, ignoring each other during the twenty minutes journey. Then we walk a further twenty minutes to our offices from the station. Funny thing is I’m pretty sure she’s also an Architect like me. Have we ever acknowledged each other’s presence? No. Not once in at least a year. Will we ever? Probably not. Why?  In the world we live in, we have learnt to compartmentalise our lives, so we freak out if anything tries to break out of that mould.

It will take more than a smile or a wave for any of us to reach out of our mini-worlds and make contact, but you never know. One day I might write a post about the day Mr Security Guard stopped to say hello with his little daughter. Or how Miss Train Ride came over to speak to me at some Architecture do. Don’t laugh, it could happen. Maybe, someday…

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick_FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  1. Wow, that’s so true. I say hello to the other parents at my daughter’s school, but don’t know any of their names. Never really talk about anything but school related stuff. They’re Andrew’s dad or Madison’s mom. I know it’s not exactly the same thing, but similar. We never look below the surface and get to know anyone.

    • We should make a list of the people we see often that we could potentially speak to one day and see how many we actually talk to in the next five years…

  2. 🙂

    • Anonymous
    • September 26th, 2013

    I’ve worked at this place for 5 years and ride the elevator to different floors. Everyday, “tommy” and I would get on and off to together several times a day. Now tommy is a wide slight cross eyes giant who never made eye contact not smiled. Heck, I made up stories of him in my head about him (not very nice ones either). One day, I dared to look at his name tag expecting to see “fester”, and as I did, he held the door open for me. We exchanged pleasantries awkwardly and soon after we were “hello- hi” friends. Turns out he truly is the nicest guy and constantly makes jokes with me. Turns out he isn’t truly cross eyed either but his shy sidewise stare to avoid eye contact have that illusion. Now don’t get me wrong he may still be the man who keeps chicken heads or hoards dolls but it took me 5 years to get to know alittle bit about this gentle giant.
    We live and learn…

    • We really do live and learn. I love the way you described Tommy, especially the name tag bit. I’m still laughing. I have a similar story about someone I used to think was incredibly rude and obnoxious because, for over a year, he barely ever acknowledged my hellos. Turns out he’s just incredibly shy and once I got to know him better, I realised he’s really lovely. Life eh?

      • Anonymous
      • September 26th, 2013

      Sorry this is chi chi luvin 🙂

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