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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A passing thought

I passed a woman in the hall today, a coworker with whom I've had a small amount of work-related interaction. She had on a tired, pensive, internal face as she stood waiting for the elevator. When she looked up and saw me approaching, she changed, her smile opening in my direction, light coming into her eyes; her skin seemed like it had started to glow, illuminated from within.

I smiled back, as I usually do (I usually smile to everyone I pass -- and I wonder now if it seems forced or phony), and we exchanged pleasantries as I walked past. I even conjured up some small witticism (admittedly not all that witty, but there are points for trying) as I disappeared around the corner, and she stepped onto the elevator.

The images, though, of her face before and after she recognized my presence, stayed with me as I continued on my way. (Where was I going? Lunch. I ended up getting a slice of pizza at a local joint -- not a franchise like Pizza Pizza.) What was she going through, in her private emotional world, before I intruded, and why did she she put on such a broadly public face for me?

Other times when I've passed this woman, each of us on our way to somewhere completely unassociated with the other person, she's given me a far more neutral facade, a weak, non-committal smile, in response to my usual (and probably somewhat goofy) grin. She frequently seems like a tired person -- certainly her sleeping patterns are written in dark underlines beneath her eyes -- but she's far from lethargic, just not bouncy. And I've certainly never seen her radiate before.

But there she was, stuck in the elevator's holding pattern -- Douglas Adams certainly had it right with his precognitive, self-motivated elevation devices, even if they were a bit too cheery for Ford's tastes -- and for whatever reason, she turned on all the lights when I came along. Was I looking particularly dapper today, dressed in my longcoat for a walk outdoors? Did she find my scarf amusing, or something about my wayward hair? Was I unconciously emanating some sort of joy of my own, to which she could not help but respond in kind?

Certainly, it could have been me, but I'd never provoked such a response in her before. As I mulled the exchange over on my sunny, sub-zero wanderings in search of something cheap and palatable, it occurred to me that perhaps I had caught her off guard. Could she have been so involved in her internal state, so absorbed in the life inside her, that she failed to have any warning of my impending intrusion on the outer bounds of her personal space? If so, I must have seemed like a bolt from a clear blue sky, or a sombre movie suddenly turned bizarre.

In such a case, the energy she poured into her facade on the event of her sudden awareness of my existence must have been akin to a hand thrown up in reaction to a sudden flash of light. Without any warning of who or what was coming so close, she would have had to throw her face into a yellow alert, a barely mitigated response of excess cheeriness that would be broad enough to handle whatever had suddenly popped up on the radar, and loud enough to mask whatever lingering traces of the underneath might still be otherwise detected.

Was it DEFCON 7 to protect the inner self? Maybe.

Or maybe I really am that goofy.



At 11:11 AM, February 27, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

boy Hg... this post gives several personal discriptors of your appearance.... better beware or your carefully protected anomoninity will be in danger

At 4:39 PM, February 27, 2008 , Blogger Hydrargentium said...

What, you mean the coat/scarf/hair description? I hardly see how something so generic could compromise anyone's anonymity. Although, I suppose I have just ruled out all of the bald people in the world -- unless I was just playin' on ya.



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