Saturday, April 23, 2011

One Quarter Portland

Six down, eighteen to go.  The last one is mine.  It will be that way for every city I review.  Every other city will be new to me, but the interactions I have had here tell me that they will most probably feel very much the same.  I am expecting the same experiences in that I will be meeting people, and people are the same all over the world, though I think we would like to believe that isn't so.

My little place in the world,
for now.
It is promising that I have gotten so much out of so few interactions.  I have met people who have inspired me, who have challenged me to see things differently, maybe recall a feeling or experience I had long forgotten.  I have watched as people pulled their guts out of their mouths for me to inspect, felt the comfort of a familiar neighborhood once loved, experienced the wonder at the recognition that there are little surprises waiting for us all over the world, and felt the adrenaline rush of a pre-teen in front of a pinball machine.  All this in less than a month.  Every time I leave a new place, after having met a new person, my first thought approximates, "what if I had never met that person, never seen those things?"  I walk away feeling like I have just been given a gift, feeling incredibly lucky.  I know these people make me better.  The more I open myself up to see things differently, the better the world looks to me.

I am more vividly aware of the human need to connect with other humans, and the very unfortunate and human fear which keeps so many of us from attaining this connection.  The more I experience, the more this puzzles me.  I just can't believe that people prefer to sit in front of a TV screen or video game instead of getting out into the wide world and tasting it.  People are so much more interesting than TV.  I mean, TV is predictable. The shit that happens out there, in real life?  That is entertainment; dimensional, smelly, beautiful and raw.  That is what makes us, what brings our humanity up to our skin and out of our pores.

I just watched an RSA video about Empathic Civilization, which lays out the premise that once empathy was only relegated to blood ties, but as the world grew and humans developed, Empathic Civilizations grew larger and larger, until today, where we are empathic, in most cases, towards people within our own countries.  The thesis states that it would only take a slight change in perspective in order to broaden our ability to empathize with people all over the world.  Empathy is the invisible hand, the speaker in the video states.  This, he claims, could save our species and biosphere.  Later in the video, the speaker reveals that all humans came from two people.  That means that we are all, in a sense, related, we are all made of the same stuff.  I think that is why it is more gratifying to share a space with someone than to chat with them in a chat room, more stimulating to have a conversation with someone in front of you rather than over the phone.  But, it is also more work.  It is harder, because on some level, when we look at others, we see ourselves, and it is difficult to accept what we see because sometimes, it is painful.

We are all frail, fragile, and flawed.  We hurt each other, we pull away when we want love, and we can collectively be incredibly destructive.  These tendencies are in all of us.  The ability to embrace these qualities, to accept these leanings, is rare.  But, I believe, from what I have seen, that this is what, in the end, could bring us to be decent, to not judge or fear, but to forgive and accept these qualities in ourselves and in turn, be able to accept and forgive them in others.  The excuses that we are using to destroy ourselves are becoming more and more difficult to believe.

I have been itching to get out of Portland; the homogeneous grey and constant rain has been pulling me down like a weight these past few years.   I have lived in and around the Northwest for roughly twenty years, but seeing this city through the eyes of others has transformed it dramatically.  This project has breathed new life into it and has renewed its shine, but the city has not changed.  I have changed, and I would not have been able to without the experiences I have had with these strangers.  These people have revived me, renewed my optimism, and have helped me see that we are all equally heroic, tragic, wonderful, and walking disasters.  We need each other, but instead of doing something about it, we are going home to watch TV, or play World of Warcraft with people we only know through their perfected avatar personae.  I will be the first to tell you, I like TV, and have been guilty of spending hours in front of one every night for several years of my life.  I have also spent my fair share of time playing video games.  But no amount of points, no plot twist or character arc could compare to the six experiences I have been lucky enough to have over the past month.  I am better because of the people I have brought into my life.  I carry them with me in my heart.  They are the spine which supports me.

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