I was very struck by this passage in a beautiful essay published in the paper about a month ago: Is It Strange to Say I Miss the Bodies of Strangers?:
In the way that absence illuminates desire, and breakage illuminates function — you don’t notice the doorknob until it twists off in your hand — quarantine has made it plain to me how much I miss the daily, unspoken, casual company of strangers, the people whose names and lives I’ll never know, who populate my ordinary urban days with their bodies on the subway, their glances on the sidewalk, their stray comments at the A.T.M., their hands holding whole milk and gummy bears in front of me in the bodega line.
It was in the early months of my separation that I started to become acutely aware of this gratitude for the peculiar anonymous company that urban living offers — for the cafe just downstairs from my new apartment, where many of the same regular customers gathered each morning: the amiable elderly man chain-smoking and mansplaining trans-Atlantic politics; the mom-friends with their parked bassinets; the 20-something boys reading Bakhtin and Heidegger who never offered to help me carry my stroller up the stoop stairs. In the aftermath of my household unraveling, it was an acute and unexpected comfort to find this daily ragtag cohort just downstairs — a looser household, but a household nonetheless.
Walking late at night on Flatbush Avenue, I appreciated all the anonymous strangers I passed for the ways they suggested, even if I didn’t know their stories, how many different ways it was possible to craft a life. The man buying mangoes at the bodega just before midnight? Maybe he was a father of five. Maybe he was a single father of five. Maybe he and his husband were trying to adopt. Maybe he and his wife had been trying to have a child for years. Maybe he and his wife knew they didn’t want a child; maybe they were saving up to travel the world instead. Maybe he lived alone with his aging mother. Who could know his story? I never would. But I didn’t need to. I only needed to know, through his presence on that sidewalk, that so many plotlines for a life were possible.
When we lose the ability to live among the bodies of strangers, we don’t just lose the tribal solace of company, but the relief from solipsism — the elbow brush of other lives unfurling just beside our own, the reminder of other people’s daily survival, the reminder that there are literally seven billion other ways to be alive besides the particular way I am alive; that there are countless other ways to be lonely besides the particular ways I am lonely; other ways to hope, other ways to seek joy.
"So many plotlines for a life."