Parallel Worlds

Tonight I was at an event at which I got to see a number of short films made by people telling stories about their communities. There was an incredible diversity of people, places, and narratives. I was struck, as I have been so many times before, by how many corners of the universe there are going along in parallel, often completely unaware of each other. Any experience, activity, locale, person, or group can introduce you, whether intentionally or not, to another community and lived experience shared by many of whom you’ve previously had no knowledge. This can happen in large ways and small.

When Hazel was born, she spent some time in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). I’d been aware that such a place existed, but my thoughts about it were limited to, “A place for really sick kids, sounds pretty awful.” Being there for a while gave me the opportunity to learn more about it, to consider it more holistically, to think about not just the babies there, but the nurses and doctors, the parents and families of the babies, and the support staff who worked there. Now when I hear the term I have all that in the background.

Having dinner with Ted the other night I noticed the huge restaurant bar and thought about all the people who congregate in restaurants and bars every day and night, the regulars, the people for whom each of those places is important. And the drink. There are people who are very invested in the alcohol they drink, whether from interest, enjoyment, or need.

Driving around town and seeing students walking near the U, I remember my college days, now a couple of decades behind me. I wonder how it will be when I’m dropping one of my daughters off for her first semester of college or university (assuming that happens). I think about the ways in which out-of-town students experience this town, and how that might be different for them than it is for me.

Sometimes it seems to me that we’re all moving down a life road that’s surrounded by billboards that go so high we can’t see the countryside around, or the next road over, or even have any clue there’s something other than what’s immediately around us. It’s pretty common for people to pick one community in which they feel comfortable, whether that’s a church, a particular group of friends, or a specific activity, and never venture out from it. Things which introduce us to new ideas, new experiences and new communities are great, because that expansion supports greater flexibility and gives us opportunities to appreciate difference.

Having kids has certainly done that for me. Sometimes it’s surreal. The power of nursing new babies is such that it’s easy for me to forget the rest of the world outside. Getting out and about, I have flashes of that odd irrational amazement that here are all these people going about with no knowledge of the experience which is so enormous to me right now, the tiny universe of my two babies and their daily & nightly attachment to me.

I think that especially as I get older, it’s important to seek out new experiences and communities. Partly, it’s great not just to have my perspective expanded by them, but also to see how particular or specific my world-view is, grounded in my own personal experience as I go along my own road, and how much else there is out there. I may only ever understand or relate to a small fraction of it, but sticking my head up above the billboards once in a while (yes, I’m thinking of the movie “Brazil”) is important. Tonight was a wonderful way to do that which has gotten me thinking about my own city and opportunities here in a new way.

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