Subway stations are the worst when the MTA does track work and stops a train from running to certain places and you just have hundreds of people swarming down the steps like a scene out of high school when the bell rings and all the kids start moving in chaotic herds to their classes. Anyway, I was walking down the steps and a lady’s Trader Joe’s bag broke and all her groceries just fell out. She had to stop to pick up everything, which is a death sentence when people are trying to catch the train before it leaves. I know what it’s like for a Trader Joe’s bag to rip apart, forcing you to hug your groceries close to your chest like you’re carrying 10 newborn babies, so helping her seemed like the least I could do. She had already picked most of it up when I got there, so all I did was grab a bottle of hot sauce to give back to her, but her face loosened up and she said, “Thank you. I really appreciate it” two or three times as she ascended the stairs and i descended (and I had no other response other than, “It’s not a problem,” which didn’t really communicate the softness of feeling appreciated, valued, and mean something to this stranger from some other walk of life). And it’s strange to think of how much more of an immediate impact a simple act like picking up a hot sauce bottle for a stranger has over things like putting together a conference for hundreds of people, where I’m entirely numb to feeling like I’ve accomplished anything.
This just happened to occur on my way home after Y and I were talking about love and what that looks like/means/is. It wasn’t just a conversation about romance and affection, but more about how it shapes the ways in which we relate to other people/aspects in our lives (families, partners, friends, complete strangers, revolutions, movements, etc.). And I guess all I could convey was that I don’t know the answer to that. It’s hard because for one, it sometimes feel like there’s a cultural barrier that gets in the way of understanding it, coming from a household where care and emotional support have never been as explicit as it would be in other families. It also just made me think about how inundated the word is with preconceptions that have been spoon-fed by the media (things like enduring through struggle together in the name of love, or being one another’s “other half”—but who’s to say there’s only one person who is meant for you). I’ve come to think about my relationships with people more in terms of the degrees of connection I feel.
Thinking about forging powerful, critical connections is so much more meaningful for me. Love has so much already defined for me that it sometimes feels like there’s very little space for me to figure out what it is for myself. And ironically, in all that space that is already filled, it becomes almost a meaningless void. But connections—that’s a word to describe a way of relating that I didn’t grow up thinking about until recently. Language may not necessarily describe those moments of fullness, where I get all warm and teeming, where a crack of a smile and typing furiously on my iPod on the subway ride home to snatch this ephemeral moment that is slipping through my fingers at a pace that is just a step ahead of my own two thumbs’ are the only way my body can react.
No, I may not be able to communicate what it means to pick up a hot sauce bottle in that specific context, but I guess what helps me productively use language to think about things like fullness and love is taking ownership where I can, attaching meaning and emotions in the vacancies within words I can find.