Aside from our handicaps of apparel, I love this city. It's academically alternative; one of those rare places where people not only believe that change is necessary, but also tend to believe quite pragmatically in making those changes a reality. Here, my eyebrow piercings are sexy, my veganism a perfectly valid lifestyle choice, my love of the Beatles universal enough to raise eyebrows when I dare to think it even warrants mentioning. In Seattle, I can have a tattoo and still be an academic. I can listen to rock and still be feminine. I can write irreverent blogs and still be considered a writer.
They're hosting a five-day conference on compassion this weekend. It's unfortunate to me that this is something that anyone anywhere would need to host a large conference to promote but, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, so it goes. They keynote speaker is the Dalai Lama, and Jeremy and I had a rare opportunity today to attend a huge gathering at the Key Arena to see him speak in person. It was an amazing experience. He's a phenomenal man; there's no gravity or self-importance to him, only a sense of passion for the cause of peace and a jolly sense of humor that makes him seem more like Santa Claus than a religious leader.
So we're sitting here in this coffee shop, enjoying the first sunset we've seen since sometime in September through a plate glass window and, adding an ironic cohesion to my day, someone put a Beatles anthology on the sound system. A few minutes ago "Eleanor Rigby" was playing.
Ah, look at all the lonely people.
It got me to thinking. Mostly because I think way too much about way too many things (especially when it comes to the Beatles, I guess, given that a high percentage of their songs were reactions to a chemistry that had nothing to do with how well they got along), but it was an abrasively odd song to hear after the experience we had today. There were so many people there. And not a one of them looked especially lonely.
I know that it's impossible to know what's going on inside someone else's head. I also know that the odds that no one in a crowd of 30,000 people might be feeling isolated are rather small. But it's also hard to explain the sense of unity that permeated the crowd today. The fact that a large portion of Seattle's population would spend the greater part of their Saturday afternoons celebrating the mere concept of being nice to others - something which seems so simple on the surface but is apparently a rather difficult one to grasp - without any agenda other than basic altruism, was infinitely refreshing. I'm tempted to think that there may be hope for the human race after all.
I know there are a lot of people in this world who are lonely. But I'm starting to wonder if it's really as necessary an emotion as we think, if it's not something we might choose, however unconsciously. Could the simple act of treating others as you want to be treated - a principle as philosophically universal as it is theoretically ignored - end the cycle of isolation that seems to haunt my generation? It seems, at the very least, worth a shot.