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I clamped my eyes shut and released a deep shuddering breath, tuning out the reporter’s voice to a dull monotone in the background.
Why do I continue doing this? No, a better question to ask my bedroom ceiling when I finally go to bed: Why do these events continue happening, almost like a broken record, cursed to repeat that solitary line of the lyric, never the full song?
I looked up, just in time to see the camera return to focus on the news anchor, who shuffled his papers and adjusting his tie in a professional manner. Then he opened his mouth, and I braced myself for the weight to drop.
“Today, a car crash at the intersection of Oak Street and Main leaving…”
A shiver ran down my spine. I grabbed the remote and pressed down on the power button. I slumped back down onto the couch, staring numbly at the no longer flickering screen, the only thought pounding through my clogged brain: Too close, too close.
Too close to here, too close to home and phrases jumped out at me from today and headlines from days, weeks, before, echoing inside my skull like a war chant: “Economic crisis… terrorists…casualties sustained…politicians continue…”
I shook my head, disgusted. How can the reporters seem so calm about it relaying daily disasters with the same tone as pointing out the latest weather occurrences? And me…I’m just left wondering what tomorrow will bring.
Gravel and fallen leaves crunched beneath my feet as I shifted the weight of my backpack. The crisp wind licked my face with prying tongues, whipping rebellious locks of hair into frenzy. Hugging the folds of my sweatshirt closer for warmth, I turned to the right, away from the crowded streets.
The park was almost empty by the time I walked pass the play structure and settled myself on my favorite bench right off the path. I felt safe, in my own personal sanctuary. Leaning back effortlessly, my eyes followed a leaf’s lazy descent to the ground, like it had all the time in the world, just simply being without worrying about any other moment apart from the now.
I wish I were like that.
Sighing, I tilted my head up, feeling the rays of sunshine caressing my skin with warm gentle fingers. The wind seemed to whisper secrets, weaving in and out in complicated patterns through the overlapping layers of leaves.
I loved this bench: Obscured by the draping branches of overhanging trees, I could watch passersby talking animatedly, listen in on their “work-was-a-hassle-first-the-paper-copier-broke-down-goodness-knows-I-need-a-coffee-break-how-was-your-day” rants, without being seen. And sometimes, I simply stayed there for hours, occasionally reading a book. I could forget for a while everything else: the nagging worries, constant reports of more lost jobs, impending fears of what was to come. Here, I could escape; I could forget about the world. Like a baby snuggled up in the warm, protective arms of his mother, I felt sheltered.
A peal of laughter broke the serenity, causing ripples of disturbance along the calm air. Startled I looked up.
A man and woman walked by my bench, laughing and talking. I had never seen them before. However, I felt my eyes drawn to them, the casual way he waved his hand in the air and how she looked at him in response; they seemed different, immersed in the gaze they shared. They seemed at complete ease with the world; as if nothing existed except the moment they were in now, together. I stared at them, transfixed; I felt intrusive, witnessing the scene. It was not as though I had never seen couples taking a walk through the park but this…they seemed to be making a memory, simply with each other, unaware of a bystander hidden in the shadows. As I watched, the man leaned forward, whispered something in her ear, causing the woman to throw back her head in laughter. And they looked at one another, open with mutual affection, hiding no secrets.
Except…I could not tell just from looking at them how they were related. Was he her older brother, which would explain the protective arm he placed around her shoulders? Perhaps they were dating, even married. Or maybe, they were simply friends, relishing a moment away from the need to complete a task and enjoying each other’s company.
I felt connected to them, as though I could reach out and touch the soothing aura they radiated simply by being there. They seemed to glow, creating an epitome of simple genuine human emotion that made me want to laugh and cry.
Then I blinked and they turned around the corner, disappearing from sight. And yet, I continued staring at the spot where I had seen them, the man and the woman and their tangible feeling of…I don’t know what. I could visualize them, their faces, and their expressions. However, if anyone were to ask me about the couple's appearances, whether her hair was long, or if he was tall, I would not be able to answer. In the photograph in my mind, all I saw was emotion, the raw, unadulterated emotions painted in their expressions and body language; all other features were out of focus.
It seemed so simple, so real, but now…I could not explain what mesmerized me about that moment. It felt strange to me. I could describe what anger is: it is the way I felt each time the news comes on to announce how the world continues plummeting down an abyss. And I would want to scream, to throw something, or to find a scapegoat to vent. At times like that, I scared myself; it was almost as if I became an atomic bomb of increasing rage and grief that I cannot control. I do not feel human; anger brings out the beast in the best of us. And then, the moment disappears, evaporated in air, leaving me more confused and full of hopeless expectations for tomorrow.
Anger is easy to describe because…it is the emotion I depend on most when I am at loss and stands for every element of darkness I try to fight against, my antagonist in life. However, compassion…love…friendship…what I saw on the man’s face when he looked at her, I could not go more into detail beyond just reciting them like a grocery list. Artists try capturing emotions and make them appear real in their works, scientists explain how emotions are triggered, and writers attempt to describe with their words. Me? I am only a trying to remember exactly what just had happened that made the moment so unique with a simple elegance.
The most I could understand…if anger can destroy a person, then compassion can give that same person hope: Compassion makes us human, balancing out our flaws and frustration.
I shook my head and laughed. I felt as though I was trying to take on the role of a philosopher who discerns the meaning of life, like a little girl dressing up in her mother’s wedding gown, trying to act all grown-up. In truth: I am just one more person waiting to be liberated from what so many other people see as an oppressed world, not just me. Now…I am not sure if I wanted to be liberated quite yet and break away the imperfections of the world in search of my Utopia.
Instead, I started thinking about the people I pass by walking down the street, to school, back home, on my way to the bookstore: I can never know what is on their minds, just judge them on how they carry themselves. What are they thinking about? Are they worried, like I am, about the next obstacle the world will throw at them? Do they stare at the ceiling of their bedrooms, thinking, dreaming?
And what about the others? The lost people who allow themselves to think that the only option left for them is just keep digging further down into that hole of forgotten hope. And yet, there is a burning light, that beacon in the distance; that they would see just beyond the horizon line if only they looked up.
My mind returned to the couple, who lived in my head just in that moment, that solitary moment in which they unknowingly allowed me to feel beauty. Their presence was like a comet streaking across the night sky, leaving an imprint of where light should always be. That, not the blaring headlines from newspapers or the daily reports from news anchors, was what life embodied. The breakthroughs of hope and love define us, to remind us that we are simply human, despite all else.
I stood up from the bench, brushing away leaves that had fallen into my hair without me noticing. I clamped my eyes shut and released a deep shuddering breath. I opened my eyes to take in the light of the sun.