Intimacy Among Strangers: Finding Unexpected Connections On The Sidewalk

For those of you who have yet to experience it there is a new street musician playing downtown in Northampton. For those of you who don’t normally waltz the streets of our little town allow me to share that the quality of street musician is quite unusual. Given the five colleges and a large artistic and musical population in this odd section of the world, the music quality heard at random moments in the depth of winter or on the perfect spring day (like today) is exceptional. We have everything from trombone to alto sax to accordion to steel drum. Lately, however there is a new “voice” on the scene, a violin or fiddle, that gives Main Street the feeling of a sweaty New England grange filled with contra dancers.

I’ve heard it several times in the last few weeks, always on the sunniest of days and the new voice is as refreshing and bright as the season change. It is obviously a sensitive creature as the playing ranges from breathtaking to quaintly fumbled, making it all the more endearing. Today this musician set up directly next to my parked bicycle so during my unlocking and helmeting process I had to stand almost shoulder-to-shoulder with the bow-wielding musician.

The musician, to my surprise, is a young woman, perhaps even a teenager. She is a slight thing and appears to be as bashful and bold as her music. She finished playing while I was in mid process and I wished I had anything other than a $20 bill in my wallet. But instead of offering her a compliment as she caught her breath, I went about my business awkwardly in the tiny bit of sidewalk between the street post that held my bike and her little frame.

Now I’ve lived in Paris and I’ve traveled in some major cities of the world. Personal space at 3:30pm in Northampton is very different than rush hour on the Metro. Our personal bubbles are the size of cars out here. It was not only awkward not to make eye contact or say something, it was borderline rude.

Maybe it is my history of living in cities after growing up in suburbia, maybe it was being raised by two Vermonters who are more skeptical of the world than most, or maybe it is simply because I am a private person. I don’t usually talk to strangers. I don’t talk to strangers—even when I want to talk to them.

These last two months however have changed me a good deal and I’m thinking about privacy and secrecy in a very different way. Maybe I am touch obsessed with undoing my secretive ways and redefining what I term intimate with the people closest to me. The amount of loneliness I have experienced in the last two months due to continued illness (and a touch of self-pity due to the illness) has been very unusual for me. I am seeking out connection in a new, more determined way and redefining what I consider my community.

So there I was standing in front of Thornes with my bike helmet on ready to hop on my bike and in this very intimate voice she almost whispered “ I can’t make hair cooperate today.” I turned to make eye contact and watched as her short hair whipped about her face and eyes. The talented violinist was caught with hair in her eyes.

It was a moment among strangers. Why is intimacy among strangers so oddly profound and special? Why does it feel like an outpouring of the personal? I have often wondered this. But there we were having a real moment between women. She let down her guard and it was all the excuse I needed. Being the introvert that I am I really have no idea what I said specifically, but I fumbled through a probably inappropriate and elaborate outpouring of how her music was enlivening downtown and reverberating energy through the streets. Yup, it is all or nothing with me.

What do we gain from standing shoulder-to-shoulder in silence? What do we gain from respecting people’s silence? Isn’t there more conversation out there? More moments of unexpected beauty and connection? What will you do with your voice today? With your smile and eyes? Will you keep your ways of communicating for those in your inner circle? Or might you instead be generous with communication and seek out little moments to create intimacy.

Copyright: iofoto / 123RF Stock Photo

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