I realized as I approached my car in the underground parking lot, having walked by at least five people since exiting the escalator, that if one of the passers-by came up behind me and attacked, I’d have no way of identifying the perpetrator from the neck up.
As far as I was concerned, none of them had heads.
Not literally, of course. They were walking and talking and therefore I will assume they were anatomically correct, but I couldn’t swear to it because I was too busy not seeing. Too busy looking down and away. Too busy avoiding eye contact. Too busy hiding inside myself.
The odd thing is that I didn’t really notice my extreme absence until I looked ahead to the parkade’s entryway and realized it was raining. Noticing and becoming aware causes me to snap back to reality when I distance myself from it. It was as I watched the drops bounce off the fallen leaves that I realized the extent of my distraction. It’s not a good way to function in the world; it’s dangerous to be so physically and emotionally unaware.
My example is extreme and the behaviour is habitual; I automatically try to avoid being connected to the world when I’m out in it. The oddity is that I generally don’t notice I’m doing it until forced to do so, like when I buy something and realize that small talk and eye contact are expected. It’s in those moments that I acknowledge if only to myself, how uncomfortable I find it when other people are aware of my existence.
My example is extreme, but I wonder how many people are similarly distracted and distanced to a lesser degree all too frequently? I suspect the number is high.
We aren’t here as often as we should be. We aren’t with ourselves and we certainly aren’t with others. Where do we all go, I wonder, and is it really any better there? I’m not “better” when I’m away.
A great many people disappear into their phones these days, into this app or that social media network. Their heads are down, and their eyes are glued to the screens while they walk, stand, and queue, even while sitting and eating with friends. The world is becoming silent; the hum of chatter that used to fill up public places has been vastly diminished. And I suspect they aren’t aware that they’re dissociating from the world.
When I’m absent, I’m not happy. I’m not anything. We bury ourselves away to greater or lesser degrees because being in the present seems hard and uncomfortable and risky. There’s the potential for conflict, the possibility of hurt. Away is easier. Of course, staying here leads to the possibility of happiness, connection, laughter, and joy. We give up the good emotions as well as the hard ones when we let ourselves drift away, whether it’s into our heads or our phones.
I’m afraid of people, I’m afraid of what they might do or say, afraid they might cause me pain and harm and yet, most people I’ve met are decent. Why then, do I let myself hide away in plain sight? What do I really think will happen? That I’ll be mercilessly scorned and attacked as I wander the mall? That’s the problem with fear-based behaviours; the underlying argument rarely holds up to scrutiny. In reality, it’s unlikely anything untoward will occur.
I try to stay present, but I’ve been struggling a bit of late. I believe that I’ll be able to swing it back around, but I worry about the others, the ones I encounter everywhere who are there but not there. How are they going to make it back, I wonder, and do they even know that they’re missing?