I was in the pond early this morning, washing away sweat and soil from the previous day’s exertions. The water was notably colder than it was even a week ago, and on the opposite shore, a flock of Canadian geese waddled to and fro, paying me less attention than I paid them. Fourteen, I counted, then dove again.
Later, but still early, barely 7:30, I picked up a pair of hitchhikers, a man and a woman probably in their 50’s. They were dressed in insulated jackets, though it was 70-degrees. It’d been a while since I’d picked up a hitchhiker – since the last time I wrote about it here, I think – and I was glad for the opportunity, even if they smelled strongly of stale beer and something else even more sour, though I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. They lived just up the road in a mobile home and were headed into town where the man has a job cleaning the carwash, which greatly pleased my sense of whimsy (washing the car wash?), though I kept that to myself. “Yup,” he said, “then I’ve got a real good job at…” he interrupted himself “What time’s that at, hon?” He turned to the woman in the back seat. “Eleven?”
“What’s the job?” I asked.
“I’m helping kill 150 chickens. I’m cutting the heads off.”
When I dropped them at the car wash, he cast an appraising eye. “Looks pretty clean,” he said, clearly pleased. They thanked me and got out of the car.
I love these little windows in other people’s lives. I love for a minute trying to feel what it’s like to be them – to be hitchhiking to my job at the carwash (“not too fun in winter,” the woman told me), to be excited about the opportunity to cut the heads off 150 chickens, to walk that road with my thumb out, wondering in turn about the people in the passing cars, and why it’s always the ones with all sorts of shit in their cars that stop, forcing a frantic roadside reshuffling of (in my case) a roll of tarpaper, a can of diesel, and numerous tubes of construction adhesive.
How quickly and completely we lose sight of the fact that everyone has their own story, their own ways of perceiving the world, and their own beliefs, all rooted in an experience of being themselves that they and only they can truly know. Which only exposes the futility in my attempt – there’s simply no possible way for me to understand what it’s like to be them, full as I am of my own feelings, assumptions, and perceptions. But still I think there’s value in trying, or even in just understanding that the way this man and woman experience the world is different than the way I experience it. And of no less value.
When I returned home a few hours later, I walked down to the pond to see if the geese were still around, but they’d flown. For a quick minute I looked for a dropped feather, a reminder of their visit. Finding none, I headed through the woods toward the house, noticing how already the leaves on the weaker maples have started to change.