I believe that everyone falls into one of two categories: those who believe that things happen for a reason, and those who believe that things happen randomly. My rule is that you can't be both, and you can't pick and choose based on convenience or mood. Although I've always wanted to be a “random” sort, the truth is, I'm an incurable “it-happened-for-a-reason” type.
Last night, I had just returned from watching “The Social Network” when I turned on my phone on and received a voice mail message from my friend and partner-in-crime Dana, which she'd left about two minute before. She happened to be on my street at that moment, and wanted to know if I would like to meet spontaneously and do a brief compassion meditation. I called her back and we met up a few minutes later. My brain was reeling from the movie as well as a number of random worries, and I felt like it would be great to just sit with Dana for a bit in glorious silence. I suggest we go to the park across from my apartment, which I mystically assumed would be empty by that time of night.
We headed over and sat down on a short wooden bench. To our right was a noisy gaggle of teenagers, one of them belligerently repeating the phrase, “Sex sells!”. To our left, a mentally ill man sat in the grass, by turns mumbling and shouting a steady of stream of non-sequitors. In front of us another man was meandering around, and trying to attach an easel or a tripod of some sort to his bike. My attention was fractured and crackly and I couldn't focus on anything. I was having a hard time finding my grounding. We agreed to meditate for ten minutes, and I started the timer on my phone. But I was uncomfortable closing my eyes. I felt the need to stay hyper- alert to our surroundings. To calm down, I turned my visual attention to the fabric store across the street from us. It was deliriously over-lit inside, and I've always found it's cheerful shabbiness comforting.
After perhaps two minutes of us sitting silently, the man with the bike approached us and began reciting some spoken word. He introduced himself as Gobeus: Gear Organizing Baggage Equipment Urban Survivor. He said, among other things, that he's not an OG, an original gangster-- he's a COB, a child of God.
He had a vulnerable and exquisitely sensitive energy. Both of us were a bit uncomfortable with him, but I think that we were also both intrigued. After a little more poetry, he offered to tell us a story. At that moment, either one of us could have thanked him and walked away, but I found myself agreeing to listen. The offer of a story is impossible for me to resist. And I wanted to be charmed by him; I wanted him to show me that he carried magic. I wanted to see what would happen if we stayed.
I'm going to talk further about his story in detail in another post, but for now I will just say that the tale he told was a mythologized version of his own biography. He wanted to share it with us, and I am really honored to have had the opportunity to listen. At one point, about twenty minutes into the story, Dana gently said his name; I think as a polite nudge that time had passed and we were going to need to move on soon. At that moment, he held his hand up and said, “Please. Please don't leave without hearing the end of my story. Please.” We listened until the end, thanked him, and we each shook his hand. On our way back to my apartment, as we passed the mentally ill man sitting in the grass, he cried out, “I love that girl, but I can't remember her name!”
That same night, as I drifted off to sleep, I tried to keep my mind on our experience with Gobeus, but I kept thinking about “The Social Network” instead. I found the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg to be absolutely tragic. Yes, he was extremely unlikeable in the film, and yes, he has billions of dollars and is very likely going to be just fine. But what I found so wrenching about the film was how fundamentally lonely and disconnected he was from everyone around him, despite his driving ambition to gain acceptance and popularity. And the worse part of it was, he never seemed to fully understand why he remained so alienated; why it was that his behaviors and actions were hurtful and off-putting to those around him. (I'm guessing that while preparing to play this role, actor Jesse Eisenberg studied Aspergers' Syndrome, which is an Autism-spectrum disorder that makes it very difficult for people who are brilliant in many ways to connect with others on an emotional, empathic level.)
An especially telling scene is one in which a group of fellow students run into Zuckerberg outside of a lecture hall where Bill Gates has just presented. When Zuckerberg is confronted with their fandom—their frank admiration and the acceptance he's always wanted--he is uncomfortable and awkward. His eyes are disconnected and blank, and he reacts coldly, almost robotically. He has no warmth to offer; he is unable to reach out to the young fans, or feel any sort of emotional satisfaction from their acceptance.
When I told Dana that I just seen that movie, she said the opening scenes in the trailer had made her feel overwhelmed with compassion, that something about the montage of Facebook users trying to connect and share their lives with others was deeply touching to her.
Gobeus wanted to share his personal mythology with us. I have a feeling he is a fundamentally lonely person, as am I. He wanted to reach out to us, to connect with us. He needed to speak, he needed to share what was within him, as did the sick and unreachable man sitting on the grass, longing for the girl whose name he couldn't remember. I wanted to connect with my friend Dana, even though I was tired that night and might just as easily have gone to bed. Dana reached out to connect with me, even though she had a long drive home. That night all of us together connected and yet remained disconnected, met in some places, yet missed meeting in others. But each of us made a fragile offering to one another.
I don't know what any of this means. For right now, I'm just recording it, because I want to share the story with you. But I do know that it was guidance that led me to switch my phone back on at just the right moment, guidance that brought us to the park in time to meet Gobeus, and guidance that put its hand on our shoulders on that park bench and whispered, “Stay. Listen.”