I visited a new church this Easter Sunday. Walking down the aisle, I had my eye on a particular seat, but a gentleman got there before me. Impulsively, I did the one thing that most people wouldn’t do – I entered the row and sat down next to him, while at the same time smiling and making the quip, “Oh, I was scoping out that seat! But you beat me to it!”
Why was this unusual? People in our American society like to put at least one space between them and a stranger. When we go to a movie theater we have our row that we like to sit in, but what if someone is in our territory? Do we compromise our desires and sit elsewhere or fight that isolationist instinct and sit next to or close to the stranger? Hey, they’re really not a stranger, they are another Star Wars fan who likes to sit up close to the screen too!
I remember years ago when I rode the bus back and forth to work, each seat would be filled and people even stood, hanging onto poles or straps. Then, the luxury of isolationism fell away. Of course now wherever you go, whether on public transport or in public places, people shut out others by wearing ear pods to listen to music or talk to others on the phone. (As if I really want to hear your private conversation, lady!)
We put up “walls” all the time, while maybe deep inside we wish we could feel free to touch another human in kindness. A very sweet woman who I met at the art museum last month ended our conversation by giving me a little hug, a kiss on the cheek and said: “I’m Latina! I hug!”
Was that an explanation of her actions as way of excuse or a strong statement about her nature? What made her feel the need to say that? I knew she was Latina and knew that was characteristic of the culture. I loved the warmth of her expression. It needed no excuse or reason.
Each culture is different as to their etiquette on personal space. There is no right or wrong, no global standard, so we must be aware to respect those differences. Suffice to say that whatever enables human beings to relate to each other with openness, love and trust – that is the way to act. Be culturally aware of acceptable behavior and how personal space is defined, but don’t feel like we always need to fear interaction.
In the powerful 2006 Best Picture Oscar-winning movie “Crash,” the term “crash” is a metaphor for the collisions between strangers in the course of day-to-day existence; a social commentary on the interconnectedness of life in the big city of Los Angeles.
In the opening line of the movie, a main character reflects: “It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”
Do we crash into each other? Not in cars, but in outbursts of rage and emotion because we keep so much emotion unexpressed and we feel out of touch? Are we surrounding ourselves with a bubble, not of metal and glass, but of chair spaces and social media obsession?
We can Tweet and Link and Friend, but do we really spend quality time with each other? The human psyche yearns for a true connection. Science is now proving that real human interaction, touch and compassion is nearly as vital to healthy existence as food and water. Human touch is scientifically proven to change physiology.
I cringe every time I see a family or group of friends at a restaurant table and everyone is on their cellphone instead of conversing with each other. Don’t we all need some human touch?
There is so much fear and violence in the world now. Just this weekend with the Easter bombing in Pakistan added to the recent bombings in Europe, I was shaking my head in disbelief.
We need to overcome our fear that masquerades as shyness and reach out to our fellow members of the human race. Show a genuine interest in the book your fellow bus passenger is reading. Surprise someone by buying the coffee for the person behind you in line. Take your nose out of your smart phone and look at the beauty around you and the people around you. You could be in line at Starbucks and catch the eye of a cute guy or gal in line – but only if you: “Put the phone down!”
People are hungry for human contact. I wonder about all the people committing crimes against humanity and wonder when did they last feel love, feel compassion, or receive a hug?
Let’s stop crashing through life and make a real connection with our fellow brothers and sisters on this planet.
As Albert Schweitzer wrote: “Man can no longer live for himself alone. We must realize that all life is valuable and that we are united to all life. From this knowledge comes our spiritual relationship with the universe.”