Jul 26, 2020

We can never really know.

I lie in the shade beneath the umbrella on the patio sofa, hungover and slightly diarrhetic as a result of last night's overindulgence, feel the pull in my stomach muscles and calves as I stretch my arms above my head and flex my toes. I close my eyes, the summer breeze cool on my skin, and listen to the constant white noise hum of the air conditioner unit, the electric buzz of cicadas in the trees, the persistent piercing whistle of a mating call, the scifi movie sound effect of birdsong. 

Does everyone think in alliterative phrases? I suspect not, for not everyone is a writer. And if they don't, how exactly do they think? 

(The first time I became aware of this mind habit of mine, I was walking to school in Grade 4 or 5. She walked to school, taking her usual route... I was Lucy stepping through the wardrobe, Mary pulling weeds in an abandoned garden, Pippi lifting horses and finding treasure and outsmarting adults, I was myself walking to school.) 

I let a deerfly land on my finger and crush him, life snuffed out in an instant. I feel no remorse: deerflies have no redeeming qualities; they are the vampiric Republicans of the insect world, worse than mosquitoes. Deerflies use two pairs of mouthpart "blades" to get at your blood.  

Are the two tiny white butterflies flitting by playfully chasing each other, as I presume, or is this a silent struggle for garden territory, an epic battle gone un-understood by human observation?

A pair of dragonflies (they are always named Evinrude) hover above the pool, bright green and metallic blue, oblivious to the invisible threats of racism, sexual abuse, the novel coronavirus.

I think of a favourite Steinbeck quote: “No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself.”

This is the crux of my frustration. Things that seem so obvious to me, so rational and true, are not obvious to others. The internet is full of people screaming, "You need to think like me! Why don't you think like me, act like me, believe what I believe?". I am guilty of this myself. I erroneously suppose that you are like me, forget that I can never really know you.

We can rant and swear and meme in an attempt to force conformity, and maybe this works to change some people's attitudes and behaviours, but I suspect (and I believe that my suspicion is true because it is mine) that ranting and swearing and meming only force people farther away from each other.

So how do we know about other human beings? I am a writer and a reader, so my obvious answer to this question is through our stories. Tell me what happened to you to make you who you are. Do not assume I know. All I can know about you is what you tell me. 

(A single strand of spider web shimmers in the sun. She shifts her position on the sofa to stay in the shade.)

When we share our stories, we will inevitably discover moments of identification and solidarity in our individual moments of tragedy and triumph. Such is the human experience. We can never really know about other human beings, but we can, and should, try.