Every now and then the mental construct that tells us we are separate from each other falls apart. Saturday night I was on a bus packed sardine-tight with tired, sweaty New Yorkers who just wanted to get home. Everyone studied their shoes or reflections in the window to avoid accidentally making eye contact. We’re separate from each other, remember? A chain of islands called People, each one its own distinct, self-sufficient entity.
Plainly audible from the front of the bus comes a panicky shriek: “Someone just stole my phone!”
A near-tangible wave of empathy swept up from the back of the bus, swallowing everyone. In a reverse-Pangea maneuver, our cloistered island chain merged into a single unified landmass: everyone on the bus was looking for this poor girl’s missing phone.
She wore her worry plainly while the makeshift search party checked the floor on hands and knees for a stray phone that had hopefully only been lost, not stolen. The effort was in vain and Phone Girl demonstrated her black belt in hysterics.
“This has already been the worst day! I lost my wallet on the subway, I just got laid off, and it’s my birthday!” A collective groan from the fellow passengers. I felt terribly on her behalf, but Phone Girl was quickly squashing whatever good grace someone might have afforded her by way of continued help. Her quivering voice alternately plead with and scolded a busload of strangers.
“Seriously, if someone has my phone, just give it to me! Have a heart! How dare you do this to me!”
No matter what trivia was rolling around inside anyone’s head that evening, Phone Girl sucked it out and replaced it with her own woeful tale of birthday phone thievery. We were extras in her movie.