humanity

The Brief Entanglement of State Lines

By Allison, your hamburger consumer and story telling enthusiast.

In class this week, our professor had each student share their major and hometown. After students listed off seemingly every city in Texas, I resigned myself to the fact that the only out of state students would come from somewhere near Illinois or California. I’d been quickly finding that the Northeast is always underrepresented in the Baylor student body. I had yet to find someone from New York City; a girl from Long Island spoke to me briefly at the beginning of the year, but I soon lost touch with her. So I sat, listening to each student name their small, unknown hometown, following their introduction with a hurried “it’s near Dallas,” as is the Texan way of introducing oneself. Everything is near Dallas.

Yet, finally, miraculously, a voice announced they were from New Jersey.

When I’m home, New Jersey is somewhat of a rival, a disdained second cousin which one would rather not be related; yet I was willing to make concessions under dire circumstances. New Jersey downright feels like home when Flower Mound, Texas is the next best option. So I turned around to find the speaker’s face somewhere in the back of the classroom. Immediately, her red lipstick and strikingly black hair made me comfortable; it was clear she wasn’t from here, in the same way that my septum piercing and messily dyed hair scream that I’m anything but Texan.

Later, I found her in the cafeteria and approached her.

“I heard you were from Jersey. I’m from New York, and there aren’t that many of us, so I just wanted to say hi.”

She glided onto the hamburger line with me and asked me where in I lived in New York. We began trading stories, strangers made friends through our common geographical displacement. The thin state line on a map separating New York and New Jersey suddenly tied us together.

“How did you end up in Texas?” She asked me as though it was not equally surprising that she herself was here. Everyone wants to know how a New Yorker ends up in Texas; I’ve realized that I, too, am still wondering.

I do not always have a sufficient answer to this innocuous question. Saying I came for a scholarship sounds shallow, neglecting my complete infatuation with Baylor. Saying God brought me here sounds arrestingly spiritual and can be a disarming explanation to offer someone who just learned my name. So I rambled to her about how I fell in love with Baylor, how I loved the honors program, how the community here is unlike any other university I had visited. My answer was messy though it was true, but it failed to convey my full story; a story I am still trying to figure out myself.

I asked her why she was here.

“Coming to Baylor saved my life.”

I paused, unsure of what to say, but she continued. “You know how living up there can be,” she said, knowingly, an expression perhaps only two Northerners suddenly caught in the calmness of Southern culture can fully appreciate.

I smiled, wondering what she would say if I pushed her to share more, yet knowing exactly what she meant, knowing that I could’ve begun my own explanation with the same sentence. So as the conversation turned to lunch and hamburgers, we moved on, a tentative friendship formed in the closeness of state lines, but I wondered how much my life would’ve sounded like hers if we were to share our stories, our real stories. I wondered who we are, under all of these half told narratives of identity and self that we offer to others, the stories that are convenient to share on a line waiting for a hamburger. I wondered what she would’ve liked to tell me about herself. I wondered what stories I ought to be telling about myself but neglect under the pressure of convenience and simplicity; I wondered how much is lost that ought to be told.

From the Other Side

Erica.

It was 11pm on a Thursday night and Allison and I were at Target—our first escapade since she had picked me up from the airport. As we talked for the first time in months, I quickly remembered how loudly she often spoke, and attempted to match my volume to hers, consistent with the competitive nature of our friendship. It not only resulted in me miserably failing to keep up, but also in a blaring, unnecessary projection of our opinions on the University of Michigan and Cornell—and every other college we were considering going to—to the poor shoppers three aisles down.

Between breaths I could see out of the corner of my eye the glances from everyone around us. Some were curious, others bemused, and others abhorrent from the idea that two teenage girls were at a Target buying Peeps and Goldfish on a Thursday night when we should be at home studying. What were we doing? Why were we talking so loud? Where were our parents? No one would ever know.

And so that was our spring break—interrupting the peace of a subway car with our overly-loud laughs and stupid jokes and cringe-worthy puns and conversations about Omnibus and Physics and college, peppered with Allison’s “yikes” and my “fight me” and Veronica’s sighs and words of wisdom (she’s a good one).

Maybe one guy went home and told his wife about the three teenagers on the subway who were laughing too loud and interrupting his audiobook. Maybe the old couple next to us laughed and told their Bingo friends about the three lame teenage girls who were fervently working on a crossword puzzle all throughout the one-hour commute. Maybe the girl sitting next to us on that bench in front of Shake Shack told her friends about how we were telling the worst jokes and laughing about how our school was so ethnically nondiverse.

But ultimately, it didn’t matter how memorable we were; no matter what impression we made on the people around us, we were still simply quick, split-second observations in strangers’ minds. A flash. A tidbit. Fifteen minutes of sitting next to someone on the subway is a mere blink when compared to an entire lifetime.

It seems weird to think about how we are only tidbits in another person’s life. We are just as insignificant in their lives as they are in ours, holding as small of a spot in their memories as they do in ours. The person sitting beside me has her own dreams, her own aspirations, her own past and future, her own quirks and her own story that are completely unknown to me. And somewhere within her big, complex, entwined life story, there I am making a guest appearance.

Allison, Veronica, and I are simply snapshots and small memories; our stories are completely lost when looked upon from the outside. No one would have known that this was the first time the three of us had been in the same room for nine months. No one knew our stories.

It was our week, our adventure. Here we were in the midst of Manhattan, tired and battered from senior year, but ready to live. It was the spring break that we had counted down to ever since the End of the Year Gathering ended in June, since Allison and Veronica left California in August and September; it was the spring break we had furiously planned during our weekly Skype calls and ever flowing texts. We Veritas students thrived on countdowns and Skypes, painfully awaiting that time when we’d see each other again, and that time was now.

But how miniscule our story seemed in the grand scheme of things.

When the conversation lulls I take the time to glance at my surroundings. I saw it so vividly then, but now I don’t remember their faces.  There was that man from India at the subway station, a woman chasing her toddler around the ferry, two businessmen sitting behind us at Chipotle, but if I had to ever pick their faces out of a crowd, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Perhaps the woman I sat next to on the subway was in the midst of her own grand adventure, her own happy moment. Perhaps the guy I accidentally ran into while trying not to lose Allison was on his way to stage a huge proposal to the love of his life. Perhaps the volunteer at the Bronx Zoo who took the time to give us a personal tour of the Madagascar exhibit had four PhDs and had already traveled the world, lived her life, and was now relaxing peacefully by helping out at the zoo on weekdays.

We will never know.

But with each glance, with each observation, with each small appreciation of another human being, we can begin to scratch the surface of this innate complexity of the raw humanity that exists in day-to-day life. As Veronica, Allison, and I walked into that museum, sat in that subway, and laughed in that park, not only our story existed but so too those of the people around us. And there, in that moment, was an abundance of complex life stories swirling around, interacting for that brief, instantaneous moment in time, and separating, never to converge in that distinctive combination again.

EVA

Allison, one third of the corny friendship formed by EVA.

Reaching over to turn on my phone, the glowing screen informs me that it is nearly two a.m. and my sore body echoes this notion. Despite my headache and bleary eyes, I cannot will myself to sleep. Erica is throwing a pillow across the bed at me and Veronica’s laughter seems to fly across the small room with the pillow. Our conversation floats between the serious and insignificant; Veronica’s colleges acceptances mingle with Erica’s jokes about being a qualified medical professional because of her position as a file clerk in a dental office. Though none of us have seen each other in months, our inside jokes feel perfectly natural and our conversation flows without awkward silences filling the space between us.

In this darkness, an hour and half after we had turned off the lights and set our alarms to wake up at some ungodly hour before even the sun dared to rise, I feel happier than I have in months. Something about our laughter, our ease of friendship, our mutual recognition that this night, this very moment, is sacred, fills me with a sense of awe. It is easy to forget what close friendship feels like when the people you love most are communicated with over text messages and intermittent Skype calls. When you haven’t seen someone’s face but through a Snapchat in the past seven months, it is remarkably difficult to remember why their friendship is so special. When life becomes filled with midterms and college decisions and there is barely enough time to sleep, it is easy to forget why making friends with people who live across the country ever seemed like a good idea. But now, our voices mixing together as we speak too loudly, our laughter creating a symphony of joy, I remember. I remember why I call these girls my best friends. I remember why we celebrate birthdays on three way phone calls and send long handwritten cards to each other. I remember why friendship is so special, why relationships are so precious. And so, wrapped in a blanket, vaguely worried that our raucous laughter will wake my parents, I feel satisfied. Emotions grow inside of me that I cannot name, but I treasure their existence. I wonder how I could have forgotten this sense of happiness. How could I have let myself lose this contentment that reaches into every part of my being? I cannot see much in the darkness, but I am certain the air would sparkle if the sun were to shine in the room. For a brief moment, I find myself quiet; the point in time I am inhabiting has become an eternity that I dream will not end.

The next day, each moment passes with a dreamlike quality. A man on a subway platform who has just moved from India and does not know what train to take asks Veronica where he should go. Between a few questions exchanged about commuting and education, we stand in a small circle for a brief moment, four students connected by their need to reach downtown Manhattan. When a woman drops her phone on the concrete and I bend down to reach it, we touch hands. I help a young boy and his father navigate the subway turnstiles; I swipe a metro card for a confused elderly man. I do not normally think of the strangers I speak to or the things I say in passing, but with Erica and Veronica, everything seems consequential. The startling beauty of human interactions entrance me as I romp through Manhattan with Erica and Veronica by my side. To find another person, even briefly, experiencing the same emotions and willing to extend themselves is a wonderful experience. But we move too quickly to notice these beautiful sparks of raw humanity. I spend hours thinking about the man who sang in the train as he slammed on his bongos; when I smiled at him, I was not angry that he complimented my smile, he did not make me uncomfortable, instead, I was relieved. He too noticed the beauty of the subway car, filled with strangers listening to his erratic music, bonded by the lurching train and rickety tracks.

I have friends who live near me, people I see almost every day or week, people who live a fifteen minute drive away. I love them dearly. But those relationships can be easy; those relationships are formed by two complacent people not constantly reminded of the tenuous nature of their bond. With Erica and Veronica, we have plane tickets with dates marked for the end of the week reminding us that in one hundred and forty four hours we will find ourselves separated by state lines and time zones. Each moment we spend together has a stopwatch held to it, the hour hand of a clock threatening each memory we form. I don’t love spending my friendships this way, wondering if I’ll ever have the time to go back to Lancaster for a week or the money to fly out to California, but there is something irreplaceable in these friendships. There is something worthy of staying up until two a.m. to witness the beauty of humanity, caught between sunset and sunrise, trapped amongst trains racing for downtown Manhattan, and mingled in the laughter of friends.



Our dear friend Veronica runs her own blog and its actually incredibly more put together than ours. Oh, and she’s been published in WSJ. So you know, just normal people things. Go read her stuff. http://thestreetheart.blogspot.com

 

Embracing the Stereotype

Local goat lover, checking in. (It’s Allison, if we haven’t established that yet.)

Starbucks.

I’m sure everyone is already rolling their eyes, annoyed that I, an upper-middle class teenage girl whose preferred form of pants is a pair of black leggings, wants to talk about Starbucks. But really, there is something to be said. Because sure, I spend too much money on overpriced green tea lattes and perhaps I shouldn’t really drink 20 ounces of a chai latte in one sitting, and sure, I know my frequenting the coffee conglomerate makes me a stereotype, but honestly, Starbucks is an amazing place.

I drive to my local chain when I need to study for a few hours and want to be surrounded by different scenery than my bedroom or when I want to catch up with a friend and need somewhere to sit while we chat about our college applications or some equally boring subject. I’m familiar with the baristas at my local Starbucks, which frankly, is probably shameful and and all too accurate indicator of how much money I’ve wasted in one store.

People complain about the the prices or laugh at how stereotypical and annoying Starbucks is, but I love it. I love sitting and watching the constant flow of people, the confusion of messed-up orders and angry customers, the exchange of rushed hellos and unconcerned how are yous passed between worker and consumer. I love the drive-thru and mess of traffic and tangle of drivers trying to order six coffees but only one can be sweetened and the rest need extra milk and don’t forget the extra pump of vanilla syrup please.

I enjoy the rush, the general disinterest everyone has in one another. They’re all here for one purpose: they want coffee and they want it now. I love that so many people took time out of their hectic stressful lives to drink an overpriced cup of tea. I love that so many people come to the same place to simultaneously complain about prices while pulling out their wallets and spending their money. I love that a business man tries to enter a conference call while sitting next to a Britsh couple who can’t seem to understand that no, they don’t sell crumpets here. 

Sure, this exists elsewhere. Sure, Starbucks is far from the only place that sells coffee. Sure, I could better spend my $4.25 than on another venti drink, but something about it the familiarity is pleasant. It’s so human, to be so close to so many people yet so distant. The girl next to me pouring over her biology textbook could’ve just dumped her boyfriend of five years. The woman standing on line with two complaining children could be in the middle of a merger at her Fortune 500 company. Honestly, I wouldn’t know. Honestly, I wouldn’t care.

There’s an appeal in being so tangled in others’ lives while remaining so entirely disconnected. When I stand up to leave, I smile at the girl next to me and I hold the door open on my way out for the woman and her children. I’ll probably see them again next week when I have another test to study for and they have another craving for coffee, but I’ll probably never learn their name or their favorite color. I’ll probably never find out what school they go to or what company they work for. But I do know the girl always drinks a small iced coffee with extra caramel and the woman always orders a double espresso.


 

(In case you were curious, I wrote this because Erica yelled at me for not posting recently, and when I told her I didn’t know what to write about, she suggested the words hope, split ends, and Starbucks as topics. I have plenty to say about the split ends that are my head of hair, but I chose this for now. I was going to write something along the lines of oh please don’t judge me for loving Starbucks at the end of this post, but you know what, go ahead. Judge me.)