The Strangest Kind of Strangers on a Train

The old tale of complete strangers meeting in transit, discovering they have identical problems, and “solving” the problems by trading crimes to eliminate the people they see as the root of their unhappiness, makes for a striking mystery drama, in fiction. Ask Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock fans! But I was reminded recently that we give too little credit to our commonalities as a positive solution to our problems, and end up missing crucial opportunities as a result.

The filmic version takes as its thesis that the two strangers who meet can find not other, or at least no better, solution to the problem of having bad relationships with inconveniently incompatible people than to murder them, and by ‘exchanging’ murders with each other they hope to escape detection by each having no apparent connection to, or a motive for killing, the other’s nemesis.

While this makes for startling and even compelling imagined mystery, it’s horrific if imagined in real terms. Yet we do similar things all the time in this world, don’t we? Because I tend to agree with a particular point of view in general, say, a specific philosophy or political party’s policies, or my country’s traditions, does that mean it’s wise or humane or practical or generous to follow along without question, no matter what my group, party or nation says and does? We mortals are remarkably good at noticing and magnifying our differences, as genuine and large as they may be. But we’re frighteningly weak, in opposing measure, when it comes to recognizing, focusing on, and building upon our true kinship. This, I believe, easily outweighs in both quantity and importance, our separating characteristics. Digital illustration from a photo: Opening Doors

The recent train outing in Sweden that reminded me so pointedly of this also confirmed my belief that it’s an area where youth is wiser than experience. In a railcar where a young father, not a local or a native speaker of the language, was keeping his fifteen-month-old daughter occupied and contented during the trip by helping her practice her tipsy walking, she made her way with his help to where another family, also foreign but not of the same culture as father and daughter, was sitting together. That group was of two adult sisters and their four or five school-age children. The toddler was naturally attracted to the friendly and spirited older children, and as soon as they saw her, they too were enchanted. What followed was perhaps twenty minutes of delighted interaction between them all, with occasional balance aid from Papa and photo-taking by the Mamas. And barely a word was spoken, much less understood by any of the participants, during the entire episode.

The greatest among the many beauties of this endearing one-act was that the conversation essentially began, continued and ended with the kids reaching toward one another with open hands, waving and gesturing and generally putting on an elaborate pantomime together, and above all, giggling and chortling with peals and squeals of ecstatic laughter.

Needless to say, all of us adults in the railcar grinned, giggled, chortled and otherwise became happy kids right along with them. Resistance was an impossibility and a pointless attempt, at that. And isn’t that an excellent lesson for all? Adults are too busy being territorial and fearful and downright feral to remember that the open hand of welcome and sharing is as quickly reciprocated as any gesture, and a smile of greeting and acceptance is contagious beyond any language, age, or cultural barriers. We can nurse our terrors of the unknown as supposed adults, or we can choose to laugh together like children.Digital illustration from a photo: As If in a Mirror

Meeting the New Kid

Did you know that there are creatures you didn’t know you knew? Of course you knew it. After all, there’s the whole race of super-characters, multiple species like the Yeti and the Loch Ness Monster, Dracula and Tinkerbell, Wonder Woman and Wolverine peopling our universe, or at least some parallel ones, so we’re pretty well surrounded by fantastic fellow creatures if we’re willing and able to recognize them.
Digital illustration: Bumblesaurus

I think that perhaps part of the reason I’ve so long loved living so deeply in my imagination is that, having the social anxiety I’ve always dealt with when it comes to human-type people, I find I’m fond of fictional company and its many quirks and quizzical qualities. Not that I would necessarily be more masterful or even less shy in the midst of make-believe characters: I’m perfectly capable of being intimidated by the magnificence of pretend persons or frightened by the nastiness of the wicked ones just as easily as by real folk.

So you’ll forgive me if, despite his appearance of being slow-moving, benign, and perhaps a touch dim-witted yet perfectly friendly, I take my time getting to know the Bumblesaurus. He just wandered into the backyard when I wasn’t looking and made himself at home under a mulberry seedling. Yes, you got that right: he’s four centimeters long. Did I mention that I’m a nervous type? I mean, you only have to be the size of a flea to spread the plague all over Europe and kill off hordes of humans, right? I really do have to remind myself to give everyone, not least of all the Bumblesaurus, the benefit of the doubt. As they probably all do me.