You know what blows my mind? Strangers. Well, not just strangers, but the contrast between strangers and friends. I notice it a lot more when I'm forced to be around strangers for extended periods of time. It happens hundreds of times every day. Bus stops, elevators, restaurants, waiting rooms. I start to wonder about these people, these strangers. I'm not too great at reading faces, but I still try. Its hard not to wonder about them. Why are they here? Where did they come from? What are they really like? In a certain way you start to know them. You begin to recognize bits and pieces of emotion in their faces, emotion that you go through each and every day. A grimace, a half-grin, eyes that stare listlessly at the ground, their owner clearly lost in thought. Its the kind of stuff you hide from anyone that you consider a friend. No one wants to be friends with someone like that. Someone who lets their pain shine through, someone "troubled", someone "depressed". Someone who has the intelligence to realize that life isn't all its cracked up to be. Thats not the kind of friend people want. I'm pretty sure its not my idea of an ideal friend, at least.
Then again, its hard for me to define anyone as a "friend". Calling someone by their first name and exchanging pleasantries shouldn't make them your friend. It all seems so fake. I'm never as happy as my "friendly" smile would suggest. Most of the time I feel a lot more like making a grimace. A half-grin. Staring listlessly at the ground. Regardless, people seem to get the idea that I'm a happy person. To be honest, I'm just good at making first impressions. I'm not so great about living up to them. Some call that false advertising. And I'm not saying they're wrong. But I think that everyone could use a little false advertising in life. I mean, sure you'll get let down. But that is life. Being let down. Grimacing. Staring at the ground. Only being able to manage half a grin. And here's the thing; I don't like the fake stuff. I like life.
You never get to see people really living life, except when you're around strangers. I've had some of my most interesting experiences with strangers, sitting around in waiting rooms. The last time I was in a waiting room, a strange thought occurred to me. Every single person there was connected on a very basic level. Every single one of us was united in the mood of the room. We all lived and breathed the same air, heard the same muffled sounds. We all were part of this feeling, this permeating sense of stifled resignation. We were all there for a reason. Leaving was out of the question, but finishing what we had come to do was out of our hands. We all showed up on time for our appointments, signed in at the front desk, and signed away any choice we had in how we would spend the next hour of our lives. We were all united in this. We were united in the wait, and there was nothing we could do about it. It was interesting to see the different ways people dealt with their fate. Some simply looked bored. Some looked as if they could keel over and die any second. One man sat with his eyes closed for so long that I started to wonder if maybe he had died. As for myself, I just sat there. Watching. Thinking. Taking it all in.
That day, what struck me as the funniest part of the waiting room was the door through which the nurse would come out, to tell you that the doctor was ready for you. Like most people of this profession, the nurse that day seemed hopelessly out of place. For one, she was so unbearably cheerful, though I guess I couldn't blame her. We were all stuck in that waiting room, for one nasty end or another. For her it was just another day at work. You must get used to it after a while. Such is life. Second, it wasn't long before it seemed almost inevitable that the nurse would mispronounce every name she called. Its not like I was surprised. I haven't once had my name called out correctly, in all my life. I've gotten used to responding to about thirty different ways of totally mutilating my name. It might seem weird, but at least that way I never miss my turn.
Everyone would get really excited every time the nurse came, hoping against hope that they would be the next to have their name loudly mispronounced in the dulcet tones of someone paid to be happy. That hope quickly turns to envy when someone else gets called. Such is life. Soon enough the moment passes. The unifying hope is no more, and chaos reigns as each mind begins to wander down its own meandering path. Some of the best thinking happens at times and places like these. I mean, its not like there's anything else to do. As I sat in a waiting room I began to wonder what my fellow captives were thinking. Looking around, I decided that in most cases I'd rather not know. A few moments later, a man left through the nurse's door, crossing the room to the exit with a very apparent limp in his step. I wondered if the man was embarrassed by his limp, or if he cared about the others in the waiting room seeing him in his moment of weakness. I decided he was probably wise enough to know that everyone in the waiting room had more important things on their mind. Even if they did notice him, it was only in passing, before their thoughts shifted, or the nurse came out and united them in hopeful yearning once again.
Just as the man was limping out the door, an old woman began telling her friend about her sister who had died. Neither of them found the topic of conversation strange in the least. I guess the older you get, the more you have to accept death as another part of life. People die around you, and you just have to go with it. Carry on. Such is life. Anyways, as the woman was saying this, the limping man turns to look at her. I'm not sure what the man hoped to see in the woman's face. To be honest, I really doubt she would have had anything to say if she noticed him looking. I guess it doesn't really matter, because she didn't look up. When it became clear the woman wasn't looking, the man turned his attention to the rest of the room. He looked at a man grimacing at another man across the room. He looked at a man staring off into space. Then he looked at me. Slowly and involuntarily, my mouth formed the shape of a half-grin. The man looked at me for a moment, and half-grinned back. Then he walked out the door and out of my life forever. Now I've had a lot of friends in my life, some more permanent than others. But to this day, I consider that man the best friend I ever had.