An alternate existence

Separate but equal? The same or different?

What is another person’s experience walking down the streets of Lowell? Are their thoughts similar to mine? Am I a complete freak?

On my way to work yesterday morning, I noticed a crane with giant lobster claws taking large pieces of debris from the space where one of my favorite buildings in Lowell had stood only moments, hours, before.

“Oh my god,” I gasped and immediately began composing sentences in my mind.

“I am speaking to my blog,” I thought.

“Do I have a problem? Does this mean that I am spending more time communicating to virtual space than with other human beings? Should I be worried?”

On my way to work this morning, a black man of medium height was walking toward me in the opposite direction. As he approached, I wondered if I should smile at him. I decided to smile. He slowly smiled back at me.

As I continued on, I wondered if I should have smiled. Will smiling give him the idea that I am interested? Will he want to talk to me? I don’t want him to talk to me.

In Gustavus, people label you as an outsider if you don’t engage with passersby, wave, make eye contact to those on foot, bicycle, or in a vehicle.

Walking down the streets of a city, especially Lowell, is an entirely different experience.

When I am in uniform, I always smile. I don’t even think about it. I smile at everyone, men, women, children. I comment on how cute children are, and I talk to them.

Out of uniform is an entirely different situation. I withdraw into myself. It feels safer. If I smile at children, do I appear to be a creepy person or a child molester?

If a person (typically of the male persuasion) is walking slowly just ahead of me as I come to a fork in my path home, and I know I will have to pass him and then stop at my apartment door with key in hand so that he may be passing by just as I am opening the door, I will purposefully choose a different route to avoid him.

One morning, I smiled at the last possible moment at a large man who seemed to think he was pretty tough (and maybe he was). He offered the biggest, most wonderful smile in return and metamorphosed in front of my eyes into a teddy bear. I was so happy, I just grinned as I walked around the corner and down the stairs to the visitor center to begin my workday.

In this day and age, I realize that it is not strange to be suspicious of strangers. We do not live in the time of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

It is more with some sadness and resignation than anything else that I write about this current cultural tradition and conditioning.

Even with the sadness and temptation to resign myself to what feels like a cultural fate, I refuse to give up completely. I will continue to smile (when I feel comfortable doing so) whether in uniform or undercover in civilian attire. Perhaps, this gesture—which at first glance seems small but holds great power—will begin a cultural rippling effect, starting local and expanding ever outward from its origin.

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