We are alone. Sometimes by choice, we prop up our bike at the park to walk a quiet path and touch the trunks of trees and crouch and marvel at spiderwebs. Sometimes we find ourselves alone, strange, and distant, walking like ghosts through places we don’t know, passing the slack faces of people who don’t know us. It is these latter moments that may unearth good clay for reflection.
Last night, I was walking through a hotel lobby. No one knew me. I knew no one. Five black chandeliers hung unlit in a vast cavern. Four stern evergreens stood sentinel at the base of four austere columns. The lobby was dim. I think it was designed to look grand. A man sat on the ledge of a fountain that was not switched on, biting his lip as he looked at his phone. His face was illuminated. His brow was furrowed. Six middle-aged people sat huddled together on drab couches. They spoke in hushed voices. No one was laughing. A couple walked by briskly. The woman was a few steps ahead. The man trailed behind. They were both scowling. No one looked at me.
I turned back around as the sliding doors opened. It was funny how unwelcoming it looked. A hotel lobby is supposed to invite you in. I took a mental snapshot of the dull pattern on the carpet, the stupidly high ceiling, the alienating size of the place. Hotel lobbies are excellent examples of non-functional space. They say when there is an earthquake, the lobbies of hotels are exceptionally vulnerable, because they have no columns to support them and the ceilings are so high. They’re essentially structurally unsound.
Have you ever noticed how many empty couches are in a hotel lobby? Or thought about all the empty hotel rooms there are on any given night? Have you ever imagined how many people without homes could sleep in such a place? Have you ever seen the piles of steaming hot food at a hotel’s “free breakfast?” Have you ever wondered how many cold, hungry people could eat from the bits of egg and toast we throw out after picking at it? Have you ever walked in the rain to your car, then breathed that happy sigh of bodily relief for the roof and the walls that keep you warm and dry? Have you ever imagined how many people sleeping in the rain could have found a bit of solid roof under the empty glass and steel and concrete edifices that boast “NOW LEASING”? Have you ever considered the abandoned parking lots of defunct stores and thought how many happy tents or humble shacks could have been scraped together and propped up, or bedspreads laid out and makeshift pillows laid with gratitude on a bit of dry ground, were there any land left unowned, or trees left standing? Have you ever paid attention to the sign at the entrance to the park that lists the closing time? Have you ever thought that this sign is, perhaps, to keep undesirables from staying overnight on a spot of public land? Have you ever found yourself out and about, wanting a place to sit and write or think without having to pay a few dollars to buy a coffee to earn you the right to sit somewhere? What about those people who have no change to spare on bubble tea? Where do they go when they want to sit down and catch up with their friends? Do they have any friends? Who do they talk to? Who would talk to them? Who comforts them when they cry? Who tells them they are capable and worthy? Who hugs them and tells them they love them? Who even looks them in the eye?
Oh, what about the loneliness of those people who stand smiling hopeful smiles on the side of the road? Have you seen the way the other drivers around you avert their eyes and roll up their windows? How would you feel if people recoiled from you? How would it feel to be so unnoticed that no one even slows down when they drive past? Do they think that if they don’t look, what they don’t want to see will cease to exist?
Peekaboo! Are we so infantile in our grasp of reality? Do we hope that by refusing to even glance at the people who attest to the sickness of our society, we who exist WITHIN the infernal world which manufactures these sad specimens may transcend it and attain suburban nirvana through the dogged pursuit of manufactured mansions, immaculate lawns, and sleek vehicles? Do we really believe that the best-lived life may be found in fortifying ourselves in castle fit for feudal lords, gallivanting around town on sleek, snorting mounts, bejeweling ourselves in opulence like no king of yore could have ever dreamt, supping on exotic victuals designed to please and tickle our senses which we gobble, chins sticky and fat fingers glistening after which we slap our bellies in protest? Are we living the dream or simply dreaming? Is this life? Is this living?
What about those other people, the ones we refuse to see? Can we bear to look? What would we see? What does our blindness say about us?