Sidewalk Ghosts / Levi– “What If We Pay More Attention?”

From the very beginning of my stranger meeting journey I promised to describe my feelings in one way or the other; so in continuing to honor the integrity of the commitment, I’ll stand by that pledge in this installment of Sidewalk Ghosts.

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June 27, 2012, stuck on traffic jammed highway 101, I was exasperated. Stressed, rushed, and fatigued as I commuted to a very important production meeting. Fully focused on presenting a portfolio of new work in referencing a project that I was producing, and even though Sidewalk Ghosts has grown my outlook towards the people around me in appreciating our differences, I have to say, on that day, after 292 consecutive days of interview strangers and publishing the experience, I was sad to admit, less than enthusiastic. Yet in looking back, it would be shallow to ignore not only the personal growth the experience had blessed me with; but more importantly, the impact I witnessed from how others had come together as they read my little campy stories and words shared by so many unique individuals.

It was 11:18am. Overwhelmed in holding back my road frustration as I zigzagged lanes in attempt to cut any minute I could. Words flying in and out of my head, that if not for a fun little dictation app, would have escaped me forever. Looking like a schizophrenic man debating with himself I quoted: “I have not yet meet my stranger-turned-friend for the day yet, and I have no idea what is in store for me. My meeting is at 2:00pm. We’ll see what happens.”

1:00pm. I finally arrived at my destination, the Pacific Design Center (PDC). Almost 2 hours from the time I hit 18 miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic, I had 60 minutes to settle for my meeting. Too early to check in, I sat in the lobby, and as per my stranger meeting custom dictated, and despite my earlier mentioned fatigue, I loosed my attitude and began to smile and nod at all who passed by.

As expected, most gestured back with a questioning curiosity, “Who is this guy? What does he want with me? He’s a creeper!”

No harm, no foul taken. After all, I was an absolute stranger and to be skeptical of the darkly dressed dude sitting in the center of a very open space was quite an acceptable human reaction. So I cast no judgment or took it personally. It was quite natural for people who did not know me. But one thing struck me funny as I compared my moments before isolated drive to the scarcity of those passing by me in the air-conditioned bliss of a wide-open public space. And in that contemplation, I calculated one common denominator: The invisible wall, that all too often, we place between the world around us and ourselves. It mattered not if it was in an automobile or on foot in an busy building. Of resonance was a lesson learned in the observation, namely, at too many times we are a divided people.

I had a little time to kill, so I did an experiment. Went to the building entryway and opened doors for others. Most were grateful of the gesture, but there were a few who scurried by, almost seeming frightened by my outreach. It wasn’t like I was pushing over their boundaries. I asked for no response and purposefully positioned my body language to be as non-threatening as possible. Just opened the door.

Now trust me, I’m not proposing that we naively drop our walls. There is good reason for them at many a time. Still, it made me question, “What if we all just trusted a little more?” Would we find new light in those we pass by, work, and live with, by becoming just a little more aware of each other.

Anyway, there I was, at the PDC, clock ticking down to meeting time. Most people avoiding me, when one person stood out as a person to interview: His name was Levi.

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“Make what you love. It is the best thing you can do for yourself,”
he summarized.

Continuing, “I think I can only speak for myself. My agenda is “me” first. Which is probably quite similar to the rest of the human race.”

Was Levi self-absorbed? Somehow, I don’t think so. Read on.

Yes, Levi spoke of me first, but the more I got to know him I quickly understood he was not caught up in egotism.

“I just feel like if I curate my life, and the people that I love, in the manner that I desire, my world is going to be a lot better and more enjoyable. But it is really important that in all the things that I do, that they are also good for other people. You know, we can only make a little change by ourselves. But, at least for the immediate influence for those around us, it can make somewhat of a difference.

“It’s like if people make smart cars. Only one person is going to own that car, so by buying it, they are really helping themselves by owning the car and are not hurting the rest of the people around them.

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“I’m a super on-the-fence type of deal. I don’t think there’s too many people that actually make an effort to teach things where a lot of other people learn, but it is a lead-by-example type deal for me, where if people start paying attention they might learn something.”

I think Levi taught me that day through his most eloquent example. On a day of rushed mind and heart, and in the middle of a world of moving people, he paused to share a most insightful and simple wisdom. His words rang in my ear, “What if people start paying more attention?”

Talk soon my friends,

Richard

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