I watched a man dressed in clean blue jeans, a stiff striped shirt, and blue suit jacket talk excitedly about his plans and ambitions from a table over.
I’m an odd eavesdropper. Most people may pretend that they aren’t listening. They might look down and politely make-believe that our small, quaint, shared space is a place where privacy is easily had and dutifully respected. Most people might, but I do not.
For me, an interesting conversation is a work of art. The times that engagement with others isn’t forced but natural and easy are hard to come by. A genuine, active interaction, to me, is as beautiful as the ceilings lofted high in the Louvre. So I found myself admiring this rare finding and my spirit growing warm, airy, and light. I also found myself staring enchantedly at the conversation’s main artisan. My smile visibly elevating in amusement as, consequently, both participants’ voices dropped lower and lower.
This man was there before I was. He was not the most handsome of men, but his face and hair were well groomed, his clothes were sharp and clean, and he had this potent aura of confidence that greatly attracted me. I imagined his stature to be rather modest in reality, yet he sat up straight and tall, typing away, oddly calmly for a business man, seemingly unperturbed by my blatant notice.
The other man entered the large, open area in long, hurried strides. Mid stride he greeted my secret acquaintance, bending over slightly to clasp his hand while shrinking to his receiver’s full height. I paid little attention to this new arrival. His rushed entrance, aligned him with those other people of an entirely other realm than the first man and I. The type who always seem to be rushing, running, hastily moving in every direction, never in the place they want to be, and only entering themselves half-heartedly into every situation. He was not a man of great passion or ambition. He wanted things because he thought he should want them, not because of a deep unmistakable desire. He was a common working man; hard-working, respectable, but uninteresting on almost every account.
I meant to write a story sitting there. I meant to focus on the words and their interactions and my smoothly written prose. They were meant to have simply structured business conversation. Typical conversation. The type that hurts my ears with its lack of artistry and that I often watch with agitation just to roll my eyes at, taking mental notes on how I might significantly improve it. The boring man with the badly tucked shirt was meant to ask, in a great show of superficial enthusiasm, and the other man was meant to answer, stuffily with large hints of obligation. But when the man, whose shoes didn’t match his belt, did inquire about my sleek haired man’s current business, my acquaintance’s face lit up. His posture opened. Instead of leaning back in his chair, addressing questions with answers overly rehearsed earlier that evening, he positioned himself closer, leaning ever so slightly, with excitement that spilled over his careful demeanor. He gushed. It’s honesty caught my eye. The beauty held my gaze and I found myself attached to it. In awe and in luck.
He was a man of politics, in the way that actually matters. He took action on his beliefs. He stated his positions tactfully. He wanted more out of the systems he had been subjected to and the desire lit a fire beneath his feet. He walked the world like an aged monk walked across fiery coals; with determination, poise, and remarkable tolerance.
I heard little of the conversation. The capability of my ears lacks significant range, even when my breath is made undetectable and my movements scarce. But I heard he was running for a position in some field of education. He brought with him a great love for his past experiences and a great appreciation for his upbringings. There was a light that emanated from him as he talked about the endorsements he had recently received and the significance of the change he planned on bringing.
I can recall one excerpt of the conversation clearly now and one excerpt alone. It was the part that made me wish social normalcy wasn’t expected from me and I could interrupt excitedly. I could say I was interested in listening and sit between them both, intrigued, alert, happy. But social normalcy is the only thing really expected in polite society. When rules are broken, reception is poor despite any good intentions. So though the conversation drew my ears forward, my body stayed firmly in its chair.
“It is extremely important to me.” My secret acquaintance was answering a question I hadn’t quite heard. “I come from a community college background and if it wasn’t for the opportunities I had to move forward, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
There was very defined bit of pride that resonated in the ending. I admired the way he held up his humble past as a badge of honor rather than a symbol of embarrassment. He was a confident man; self-assured, self-aware. He knew that beginnings did not determine the ends.
The honest affection he had for the subject was not only noticed by me, but the man whom with he was speaking. The messy man, the boring man, was admiring him too. His eyes lit up with an excitement that seemed unfamiliar to him, but welcome. He shook the clean man’s hand excitedly congratulating him on his recent accomplishments.
“I can see how much you’ve been working and how much effort you put into it. Thank you for speaking with me about it. You’re doing a great job and you need to continue. It seems like work you’re really passionate about. How’s the competition?”
The words became fainter and their heads came closer as they spoke about political gossip. I smiled to myself as I was reminded of both my imposing status and a lesson I often forget: people are people wherever you go. While he spoke of his competitor’s campaign strategy, background, and emotional appeal it dawned on me once again that the people we read about in history books and gossip about on television are physically somewhere, right now. The world seems so much less daunting when you stop separating yourself from it. As he gossiped about his competitor, how good her campaign strategy was, and, yet, how he felt he had a solid chance against her I sat behind him placing myself firmly into a reality I often detach myself from.
They finished their conversation and the tall, smiling, boring man stood up, shook my man’s hand once more.
“Update me on your status!” He said while leaving, his long strides taking him everywhere in a hurry.
The clean man stayed standing, repositioned his jacket, and I could feel him noticing my watching. He bent over the table to pack up his laptop into a blue backpack. His accessories were so elegantly whimsical that I couldn’t help but smile while he lifted his bag to his back.
Ignoring his incredibly nosy onlooker, the man walked off. A bit more rushed than how he’d been sitting. I wondered if it was me or if he really had somewhere to go. Maybe he really had been waiting for that interaction. Maybe he had planned it. Could you plan excitement like that?
I had a strong urge to leave my belongings and chase him down the hallway screaming: Tell me your ambitions! Tell me your goals! Tell me where your life is heading! Let me be part of that light! Please? Won’t you? Let me feel that pure loving excitement I once had, once more.
But I didn’t. It might have been impolite to acknowledge my eavesdropping when he so politely ignored it. And when he walked away the open area that was flooded with natural light, almost always, seemed to grow a bit dimmer.