Wednesday, September 17, 2014

We Are Strangers When We Fall

New public art by Robert Adams going in at SE corner of Scottsdale and Camelback Roads

A guy who sits near me at work hails from approximately the opposite side of the world. While we speak the same language, at least in name, and have similar occupations in the same office, in many ways there's a gulf between us. 

Our physical traits: color, size, height. The manner and form of his speech. His food choices. His mannerisms, the way he measures personal space, the way he conducts relationships both personal and professional, the holidays he observes preferentially, his family customs and duties, in these ways and many others, it feels that we are vastly different. Sometimes when we speak to each other, even though we've been acquainted for more than a year, this feeling of vast differences gives me the strong and uneasy feeling that our differences compel us to be strangers even in spite of our concerted and open-minded efforts to the contrary.

There will be backlit panels, and falling water splooshing off copper bells

We both enjoy riding bicycles. However, he suggests that he is completely confused about why I ride my bike to work everyday, in Phoenix, year round. I've gone out to lunch with him and explained it: the emotional side, the health side, the money side, thinking that one or more of these would make sense to him. I think he gets it, but still, my reasons actually seems to baffle him, like there's something I'm not telling him, some secret thing I'm hiding from him, some odd or strange motivation that he can't fathom.

I wonder if the copper will stay, or patina to green to blend in with the panels

I've explained to him that my family and I decided together to get rid of our other cars and just keep one for a bunch of good reasons. I go into manic listing mode, and brain dump them out to him: mandatory insurance, monthly payments, repair shops mystery diagnostics ruinously expensive parts and labor, yearly emissions tests, oil changes, including the two times in a row that the certified dealer mechanics failed to tighten the oil plug afterwards, smashed windows to get to thirty-seven cents in change, rush hours, pot holes, license and registration, weekly washing, fluids, tires, belts, batteries, filters, AC service, and wipers, but he doesn't hear any of it, is stuck back on the previous statement and he stops me: "You had other cars?" I tell him yes, we had two other cars, both paid off, that we got rid of once I decided to ride my bike instead. This makes no sense at all to him. He shakes his head and looks at me as if I am a stranger to him.

In a last ditch effort, I try to explain to him about gaining neighborhood proprioception by riding at human pace in the open air, about how even though I ride home through a major metropolitan area during rush hours, I go through neighborhoods I know now, see people I recognize and who often greet me, some of whom I know by name, and many who wouldn't hesitate to help me, or me them, in a moment of need. If I were to wobble on my bike and fall, for example.

It doesn't sway him though. He thinks I'm kind of crazy for cycling to work in the summer in a situation where I could drive a car if I chose to. But I choose not to.

As Odile's after-remnants pass through, the streets reflected sky

This gulf between us vexes me, so I mull it over on my rides. What makes differences so important? What makes us "strangers?" Often I ride, but sometimes I drive a car, and other times I walk. Thus, the "us vs. them" arguments of drivers vs. cyclists vs. pedestrians make no sense to me. I could just as well sit alone in a room and curse at myself psychotically about the different things I do when I utilize different modes of transport. I am one, not many, I am the same, not different or bifurcated, just because of the way that I happen to choose to transport myself from place to place. 

Similarly, my different-seeming coworker and I are really more similar than different. We both come from the same ocean of humanity, share a common ancestor in the geologically recent past, have common goals, interests, fears, hopes, dreams. Our differences matter, but should they render us strangers? Should we let them divide us? When we notice them, ought we allow them to rise in significance in our relationship to eclipse our deeper and more vital commonalities? Out of what, fear? Impatience? Ignorance? Discomfort?

The waters which circulated off the tip of Baja a few days ago were ripped from their place of rest into the swirling chaos of Hurricane Odile. She smashed ashore in Cabo and wreaked havoc there. In winds and hot-ocean driven power Odile drove northwards along and then across Baja and into Mexico, whipping out arms of energetic winds and water and clouds in a counterclockwise cyclone which dwarfed states on satellite and radar. Odile lost power over colder water and land, but still keep raining as her remnants power north, shoved around by low pressure, high pressure, gulf stream, and end-of-summer monsoon patterns that pause only for mountains and incomprensible towering domes of radiant heat.

In clouds the water molecules must have seemed same again. Not yet reunited with ocean, but floating about in a homogeneous mist of light and form and wholeness. Knowing within their atoms that ocean is where they belong and are one. Suddenly, with the right combination of energy and air, they formed into drops and ripped from the clouds, fell from thousands of feet of height and splashed into the street along my commute route. Into rivulets they flowed, then into puddles, knowing eventually that those evaporate or flow into streams or canals, into rivers, and down to the sea, back to same.

Some time this fall, canal water will flow over copper bell shapes. It will be pulled by pumps from same, carried through hoses above the bells, and sprayed or dropped onto them in a disconsolate division of spray or drops then ping off copper into rivulets as they fall toward the canal of same below.

In a moment, or after a century of multiple water cycles, the same drops will do the same thing again, and again. I'd like to think they pick up knowledge of what's happening. I imagine the water becomes wise, over time. Eventually, they will come to understand that same and different are just faces of motion and change, that transitory entities in transit might catch glimpses of chance differences which don't alter a core of meaning.

Drops falling on copper sing a song. The words begin, "We are strangers when we fall..."


  1. Lovely...and thank you for the tip on the new art/water feature. Dreamy reflections on your last 2 photos.

    1. Can't wait until that water starts falling...

  2. When we land, however, we are all together...

    1. Unless our attention gets pulled to the superficial rather than the essential.

  3. Beautiful, as always. Thanks for another enjoyable moment.


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