Sunday, July 24, 2016

Day 24: Eavesdropping

Charles Joshua Chaplin
 [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Today's blog is inspired by a prompt from 500 Prompts for Narrative and Personal  Writing published in the New York Time on November 13, 2014. 

Prompt: Have you ever eavesdropped?

When I was young I used to practice being invisible.  I found that if I sat very still, was very quiet and made myself as small as possible people would simply forget that I was there.  I mostly did this at bus stops because there was a constant in and out flow of people, the characters always changed.

While I was invisible I would hear and see all sorts of things. I always hoped I'd overhear some conversation that would help solve some nefarious crime - but nefarious crimes didn't really happen in the town I was living in.  Mostly I just heard small, honest snippets of peoples lives which, while it didn't help me solve a great crime, did often set me to wondering how the person came to be there, in that moment at that particular bus stop.

In my mind I saw everyone's life as a line on a map.  From the moment you were born your line was drawn.  Every step, car, bike, train or bus ride marked by an infinitely inked pen.  I'd pan out and I'd see the towns and cities, with big blobs of color at the local hospitals. Lines would flower out by the dozens..hundreds, to home and the world. Each person's line a slightly different shape or color, alive and shimmering - moving for as long as they were.

Many lines crossed without the lives they were tracking ever intersecting and I'd think of how many lives, how many stories we are unaware of.  The life on the other side of the apartment wall, on the bench at the bus stop, in the next bathroom stall or the cars that pass going the other way on the highway.  Some lines would meet, pause and for a time, they might travel together as friends, lovers, or family.  And of course, to my bus stop, where I sat, invisible.

I'd see the people at the bus stop and I'd wonder what brought their lives to this moment where their line and mine paused together until the next bus came.  The bus would come, they'd board, I'd remain and as far as I knew, our paths would never cross again.

It would be years before I learned that I could learn these stories just by asking (and even more until I was brave enough to ask).  Most people are quite willing to talk about themselves if you give them the space to do so.  I have found, more often than not, that their stories were far more interesting and intricate than I could imagine.

It's easy.  I introduce myself, they reply and then I ask a very simple question, "So, tell me, what brought you here?"

And then I listen.

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