I’m a people-watcher. I like to find a table in the corner or a bench tucked away, order a cappuccino, and just savor life happening. It’s fascinating to watch people in their element. I love trying to figure out from their style, demeanor, and body language what’s going on inside their heads.
Yesterday, I was enjoying my lunch at an outdoor café in downtown Dallas. It was a glorious, sunny day and the place was packed. There were the usual groups of business-men-and-women, wearing conservative suits and work attire. There were the ladies who lunch ~ fashionably dressed socialites who air-kiss each other when they meet, and chatter non-stop for hours about whatever it is they talk about. And then, there were the stylish young professionals, furiously texting their friends while they waited impatiently for their food.
I noticed an attractive lady sitting at a table near the sidewalk. She was probably in her early sixties ~ slim, fit, and well dressed in a non-ostentatious way. She was wearing a pair of gray capri pants and a silvery gray tunic top, flat sandals, and an interesting silver and crystal pendant. Her hairstyle was short, spiky, and the same silvery gray color as her tunic. Her makeup was minimal. She sat confidently and comfortably alone, pale blue tinted glasses perched on her nose, thumbing through a magazine while dining on a salad, and sipping occasionally from a bottle of sparkling Pellegrino water.
On a bench just a few feet away, another lady sat waiting for the bus, also probably in her early sixties. Her hair was gray as well, but dirty and unkempt. She was quite overweight, and appeared to be very tired and not particularly healthy. Her clothing was a hodge-podge mixture of nothing in particular, and she was slumped over a large bag that she held in her lap. She was smoking a cigarette and, between periodic coughing fits, eating a candy bar.
As I contrasted the two ladies, all I could think of was, how does this happen? What circumstances transported these two women to such different stations in life? Of course, I have no way of knowing what was going on in their lives or their heads, and it’s really none of my business. It’s not up to me to pass judgment on either of them. But I couldn’t help but be curious.
As an avid observer of the world around me, I’m constantly drawn into the human condition. I see people everyday who attract and inspire me, and others who break my heart. I see people who live with passion and purpose, and others who stumble tentatively through life but never really seem to live. And I see people who treat those around them with compassion, while others trample anyone who gets in their way.
One day, after seeing a man publicly berate and humiliate a homeless person, I asked a friend ~ "Why are people so cruel? Everyone thinks humans are so much more evolved than other animals, but I never see animals act so inhumanely." "Don’t you watch Animal Planet?" he replied. "Have you ever seen a lion go after a gazelle? There’s nothing humane about it. It’s brutal. It’s survival of the fittest."
Is that the answer, then? Are we really just slightly more civilized beasts? Do we achieve only as much in life as we’re willing to fight for? Do other factors figure into the equation? Like a stable childhood? A network of loving and supportive family and friends? Social connections? Education? Good physical, mental and emotional health? Karma? Kismet? Can we thrive without these things if we want to bad enough, or flounder, even if we’re blessed with them?
We all have hopes, dreams, ambitions, and visions for the future. Some are attainable, and others remain nebulous and out of reach. Some people rise to the top regardless of the odds, and others fall through the cracks. Some live with style and elan, while others simply exist. Our abilities to think and reason define us as human. Our capabilities for compassion and love make us humane. WHAT we do with what we have, or don’t have, is what makes us unique, complex individuals. But WHY we do what we do is a mystery. And THAT'S why we’re so fascinating!