Saturday, April 15, 2006
One of my favorite pastimes is people watching. Give me a park bench to plop down upon, a line to wait in or a flight delay and I can endlessly amuse myself observing people and building scripts in my mind of their entire lives.

The habit is likely a hangover from growing up adopted, from endlessly scanning faces in crowds, looking for someone familiar and from feeling like an alien observer of normal people, studying them that I might obtain the key to normality.

Sometimes, I don’t like what I see. Sometimes, I see a child in emotional pain; a single mother, stressed and distressed; a father, burdened with and worried about responsibilities; an old man whose loneliness weighs upon his shoulders, pushing them down.

Sometimes, I see beautiful things: A teenager not embarrassed to kiss his mother goodbye in the school parking lot; an elderly couple holding hands with a cadence that tells you this is the hand she reached for when he returned from war, the hand he reached for after she brought his children into the world. With just one effortless gesture, you know that for more than fifty years those hands have clung to each other through happiness and pain, the decades unable to shake their love for one another.

Friday night, I hit an observer’s goldmine.

The train was due to arrive at the Amtrak station at 10:30pm. I’ve never been to this little town, and felt a bit nervous about sitting at a train station, in the dark, awaiting my son’s arrival. I packed my camera and my mace, not sure which I would need.

Entering this town felt like stepping back in time. Hundreds of little shops and restaurants nestled into turn of the century buildings. The corner parks and sidewalk cafes bustled with the Friday activities of the twenty-something crowd. The sidewalks and crosswalks filled with foot-traffic – silhouettes of young lovers backlit by antique streetlamps. And through the center of it all, a roaring freight train, seemingly miles long, made its way slowly through town.

The passenger train was delayed an hour. Thrilled with the ambience of this place, I happily settled down on a bench for the wait – and the observing. Across the tracks, a young woman played fetch with a golden retriever under the glow of a streetlamp. At the corner, a couple tangled up together, deep in conversation, leaning against a red and white train crossing sign. To my side, an older gentleman, triggered into times past by the setting, told his son about “riding the rails” during the ‘40’s.

Experiences like this once found me projecting myself into a different life; the life I might have lived. In that life I might have been a street artist or a young lover in a quaint town, without a care in the world. Or I might have simply been a girl tossing a ball to a golden retriever – a girl with a real family. Now though I am content to remain on the outside looking in. It’s a familiar place, a place I’ve always been. But even that seems to be changing.

She plopped down next to me, a Starbuck’s in one hand and cigarette in the other, asking me if she’d missed the 10:30 train. She told me her twins were coming home from college. I said, “That sounds expensive,” and suddenly we were engrossed in the kind of conversation usually reserved for lifetime friends. For fifty minutes we shared our lives, discovering amazing parallels and speaking with an honestly not usually exchanged between strangers. We connected. It was real. And the time went by so quickly, the rumble of the approaching train startled us both. I saw disappointment in her face, recognizing it because it mirrored my feelings.

Our children emerged from the swarm of offloading passengers. She touched my arm and said, “It was really great talking to you. Maybe we’ll run into each other Sunday.” I told her I hoped so. And I meant it.

This is the third time in as many months I’ve been shaken from my usual position as observer and dreamer into making a real-time connection with another person. Maybe the Universe is matchmaking kindred spirits. Or, perhaps, it is the product of feeling comfortable in my own skin.

Whatever it is, I think I like it.

Update: We returned to the train station today. You can view the photos here.

Rhonda Ruminated at 11:14 PM | Permalink |

15 Ruminations:

  • At 11:36 PM, Blogger Charlie

    Rhonda, you write movies for the mind. It was nice, watching the people with you.

    Maybe the Universe is matchmaking kindred spirits. Or, perhaps, it is the product of feeling comfortable in my own skin.

    Not "Or, perhaps".

  • At 1:42 PM, Blogger Kim Ayres

    To echo the Admiral, the more comfortable you are with yourself, the easier it is to engage with the rest of the world. No "perhaps" needed.

    Beautiful post, Rhonda.

  • At 10:27 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    Charlie and Kim, don't know what to say but "Thanks." Your comments mean a lot.

  • At 11:23 PM, Blogger sume

    I agree a beautifully descriptive piece. That's been happening to me more often where I'll connect with people quickly which is unusual given that I'm a clam.

    On a side note, you're template needs some tweaking. I think if you select "small size" in flickr and paste that url, it will fix it.

  • At 11:40 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    Sume, thanks. I'm glad you could relate.

    Thanks, also, for pointing out my glitch. Seems in my attempt to upload new photos to flickr, I managed to delete the old ones. And I don't have time to fix it right now, so if anyone's wondering where my "group" links went, they'll be back.

  • At 9:08 AM, Blogger Sven

    That was really beautiful. Those are moments worth cherishing.

  • At 2:28 PM, Blogger Marie Jarrell

    "the product of feeling comfortable in my own skin"--not there yet and don't see the light at the end of any tunnel yet, but it's good to know that it's possible, reading it in another adoptee's words. Really photographic writing. Beautiful and inspiring. I already saw the pictures before I clicked on the flickr link.

  • At 6:53 AM, Blogger Mia

    Beautiful story, beautiful pictures and yes beautiful boy. You should be very proud Rhonda!

    Something else that's beautiful.......breaking out of our shell and realizing the words "worthy of it all" apply to us!

  • At 2:16 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    Sven: thank you, so much. I'm glad you've stuck around my neck of the woods.

    MJ: Most of the time I am pretty convinced it isn't the light at the end of the tunnel we should strive for but, instead, should make the tunnel our own: Decorate the walls, put in some windows and make it comfortable.

    Besides, you know what they say the light at the end of the tunnel probably is . . .

    Mia: "Worthy" - now there's a loaded adoptee word. You are right, of course. I think part of the reason so many of us stay on the outside, observing, has a lot to do with that.

  • At 3:15 PM, Blogger Attila The Mom

    Don't hate me for spreading the horror. You've been tagged. Go here for details:

  • At 3:38 PM, Blogger Rhonda


    I hate you.

  • At 3:44 PM, Blogger Kathy

    Rhonda, if I were you, I'd find a way to get back at Atilla --grinning, ducking and running--, lol.

    What a beautiful picture essay. You are as talented a photographer, as you are a writer and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Thank you for sharing!

  • At 11:49 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    Thanks, Kathy. The photos, I'm afraid, are the result of a very good camera and not so much the quality of the photographer. But I definitely think I've found a new hobby.

  • At 9:40 AM, Blogger Charlie

    What a beautiful town out of memories past. I wish that were me, sitting on that park bench . . .

  • At 12:22 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    What a beautiful town out of memories past. I wish that were me, sitting on that park bench . . .

    That man sat there for two hours. You can't tell by the picture, but he is near a WWII memorial. I got that shot from from very far away because I didn't want to interrupt his thoughts.