(*Image credited to Flickr user opopododo*)
I was so wrapped up in contemplation, probably about work or unicorns or the astounding rate at which my unruly, Gorilla-esque calf hair re-sprouts itself (gents; form an orderly queue), that I almost took an enthusiastic stroll into the men's toilets. As I awkwardly looked at my non-existent watch and swivelled towards the more appropriate destination, I stumbled into the swivelling path of a man who had just done exactly the same thing at the entrance to the ladies. We clocked our mutual mistake, and laughed at ourselves, and at each other, and then we stood gawkily, for a cursory moment, almost struggling with the surprise of our sudden and unexpected social interaction. 'You are a human stranger!', 'I am a human stranger too!' 'WHAT IS THIS...Is this an acknowledgement of our existence? Am I participating in actual life?' 'Shiiiiit.'
This scenario got me thinking about the way that we see the world, our perspective of our surroundings, if you will. All too often, we're so engrossed in getting from A to B, or in what we're having for dinner tonight, or in whether he/she feels the same way that we do; so consumed by our own robotic routines and thoughts and selves and the infinitesimal spectrum of our own lives, that we fail to notice or appreciate our surroundings; we fail to look outward. And whilst I totally champion social media and the accessibility/value of the virtual world and its creative opportunities (social medYAAAA is my actual job...Since when was that a thing?!), it comes with its curses.
I've spent days at beautiful beaches with friends who would rather follow a Twitter trend about Kim Kardashian's ass in 'that AH-MAZING dress' on a cracked screen than fully appreciate the beauty of the water and the horizon and the scattering of wonky sandcastles. (Kim Kardashian's ass is a sight to behold, but come on...WONKY SANDCASTLES)! I've been to firework displays where people have watched the whole bloody thing through an iphone camera screen. I've been guilty of barging into undeserving strangers whilst reading the latest viral post about alternative words for 'vagina.' (Don't look at me like that. We all read weird shit on the internet. There's just a time and a place, and apparently it isn't an 08.56am frantic excursion through an office car park.)
Whatever my reasons for the Victoria toilet incident, I shouldn't really have come close to creeping on all of those urinating male commuters that day, and I certainly shouldn't have felt genuine surprise to have shared a moment of interaction with a stranger. After that, I made a conscious effort to shift my focus and fully participate in the present. 'You know what, Kathy B, just shut up. You're going to have haddock for dinner tonight anyway, you usually bloody do. Unicorns! Work is work... Focus on that at work. Shave your Gorilla-esque calf hair when you get a spare four hours. And of course he doesn't feel the same way you do; that is a given, you are still, erm, you, after all. Sorted.'
I noticed the grey, angry clouds teasing at the last pools of blue sky, and how beautiful and damp and dishevelled and stripped of vibrancy the streets of London looked. I clocked the warm smile of a homeless man with papery, creased hands, and I gave him enough money to buy a cup of tea and a sandwich. I bought myself a sandwich too, and I focussed solely on that sandwich. It had ham in it. It was extraordinary. I observed people looking happy and sad and windswept and troubled and excited and rushed, and I took a moment to wonder what the stories were behind those faces. As I rode the train home (do we ride trains? We do now...), I saw the beauty of the rolling clouds and the transitioning landscapes as the train veered from city to countryside, through industrial states and vast, open fields full of trees and cows. It was moovellous. And as night fell, I gazed up at the sky in all of its spectacularity, filled with mad scatterings of moon and stars and darkness, and I just thought 'wow, I am alive. I am so lucky to be alive and to be able to witness all of these things that can be so insignificant and so extraordinary all at once.'
Familiarity is a funny old concept. It's a perception. Naturally, we become accustomed to our daily routines, to our drive into work, and to certain people or places, but ask yourself this; in a world that's ever-changing, can we ever really fulfil that definition? Can we ever really be familiar? Perhaps it's just a flawed concept that leads us to switch off to things that we haven't even realised are there. Perhaps if we make more of an effort to become regular tourists of the 'familiar', we'll see something new and brilliant every single day. The 'here' and 'now' does not to deserve to be neglected.
Ultimately, as important as our culinary decisions are (I know I'm not the only person in this world who suffers from hangryness), and as brilliant as it is to know all of these weird and witty and horrendous terms for vagina (University Challenge; good day to you), and as fascinating and convenient as it may be to have an entire virtual world in your pocket; the most fervent charms of our existence stem from seeing and doing and feeling, from being part of and present in a moment that is in no way saturated. And no, it's not something we can do every day (the human mind is a challenging beast to tame), but I think that this change in perspective is something we should all aim for every now and again. Ham sandwiches can be really, really awesome if you are completely and utterly devoted to that ham you know. Human beings are pretty fascinating too. And the night sky? Well... Just take a look outside*. Enjoy it.
*This activity works best when it is night-time.