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Has a friend ever asked you if you remember the way you two met, and you had a fuzzy, if any, recollection of the event? It’s happened to me more than once. Of course I feel a tinge of guilt every time I answer “no”. And I feel sad to be missing out on the opportunity to mutually reminisce. Part of the fault goes to my poor, pathetic memory. But I’ve come to realize that the main reason is selective memory.
After all, you meet so many people, and you’re not going to commit every first impression to memory. Nobody’s there to tap you on the shoulder when you meet someone and whisper in your ear, “REMEMBER THIS MOMENT because this person’s going to be your best friend/first heartbreak/love of your life.”
What does this have to do with my week in Seattle?
On Tuesday evening, our group held our weekly reflection session. Our topic was homelessness in Seattle, and in preparation, we watched three videos, the first two of which featured a man whose daily routines included selling Real Change, rewrapping cigarettes from discarded butts, and dumpster diving. The first thing that struck me, though, was the opening scene in front of the Rite Aid and street signs.
HEY! That’s MY Rite Aid! And that’s MY street corner! I WORK THERE!
So when discussion opened, my hand shot up. Impulsively, I blurted out, “I recognize that place! It’s right next to where I work!” Blank stare. No? Not a valuable contribution? Okay, let me explain. This man said he works at this specific spot every morning, “350 days a year.” Incidentally, I walk past this spot every morning (and afternoon), since it’s right next to my bus stop. Why have I never seen him?
“Well, it was a year ago.”
“Maybe he’s doing something else now. Moving up.”
I frowned, unsatisfied. Maybe this wasn’t the best way to start the discussion. I let it go.
Then, something happened today. At 5pm, I left work as usual and walked down 3rd Avenue to my regular bus stop. Before I reached it, I slowed down as my senses picked up something. People doing business on the street. A rough voice summarizing a transaction, a dozen coins laying flat on top of the news dispenser, the trademark shopping cart with the olive canvas bag. It was him. The man from the video. Had he always been here, and today was just the first day I noticed?
In our reflection session, we had talked about ignoring the homeless people who try to talk to us. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always comfortable talking to strangers. Some days, I’ll nod and say “you too” to the man wishing every passerby a good day. Other days, I’ll walk on, not sparing a glance. I never thought I could be oblivious to his presence, though. This leads me to wonder, how many of society’s problems go unsolved not because of selfishness or discomfort, but because we are truly unaware? How can we make people see problems, if people only see what they want to see? And how would our world be different if everyone were aware? Some questions to mull over.