I sit in my favourite, ancient chair to write this afternoon, my imaginary friend – I have been away from it for a rather long time. It is a pleasure to envelop myself in its comfort, and naturally I have a cup of “Kick Ass” coffee to enhance the moment, not to mention the sun streaming in my windows. My morning hike sparkled with this oh-so-welcome sun after too many days of rain; a lovely lunch; the familiar motions of making cookies and enjoying the sugary smells…a day of simple content.
The best part of my day, however, has been the discovery of a marvelous book: The Elegance Of The Hedgehog, by Muriel Barber. One of those books in which one meets a ‘kindred spirit’, to invoke Anne of Green Gables – well, one of those books in which you meet yourself, maybe. I shall whole-heartedly recommend this novel, though it is certainly not my intent to write a book review…indeed, I am only halfway through the thing. Wanting to prolong the sheer enjoyment as long as I can – is it not exquisite to find such a book? Movie? Music? Art?
There is a remark in the book that perhaps we write to find ourselves, and I am moved by this, in the context of the story… The very literate, cultured, articulate, and intelligent concierge of a Parisian apartment building who endeavours to appear stupid and morose to the buildings’ wealthy residents, understanding that this is their assumption of who she is…and who troubles to look beyond their assumptions? One or two do, of course – ah, but I am just getting to that part! In any event, another of the characters writes to meet herself, she says, to move beyond those assumptions of the shallow and preoccupied she is surrounded by.
What is profoundly moving about this, I suppose, is that we are all the ‘victims’ of assumptions by the people we encounter in any given day – that the way we dress, where we work (or not), what kind of car we drive (or not), where we live, in what restaurants or stores or galleries or museums we are found in – any one of these details, taken singly, is enough for someone, somewhere to form an assumption of us that may have no bearing in reality. When I say victim, I mean this: at best, any or all of these details describe a minute piece of us, the most trivial and the most superficial aspect of us, indeed. Why does this matter?
It may or may not matter individually – many of the people we interact with daily are likely acquaintances or chance-met strangers, and presumably as individuals we have other, deeper relationships. It obviously matters very profoundly to a culture, though, in a million ways I shall not explicate, save this: the idea of being able to look at and acknowledge another human with openness and a smidgen of genuine curiosity is a great void in Western culture. That every time our eyes slide over someone…shiftless bum…teenage thug…bag lady…slotting them into a precut jigsaw puzzle, we lose a piece of our humanity. In case it is not evident, the jigsaw pieces of ‘attractive woman’, ‘powerful man’, ‘pretty girl’ (and so on…) are also dehumanizing…and not only to the objects of our gaze, but to ourselves.
Who are you, my imaginary friend? Maybe more importantly, who might you become? What vast longings and wellsprings of joy have been squeezed into the jigsaw shape someone else assigned, that you gamely try to fit within the puzzle?