My Two Cents Worth

I know a few things, things from books like the population of Zimbabwe and date of the Magna Carta, some useful stuff I picked up along the way (how to change a tire) and a lot of hard lessons, learned the hard way I’d rather not talk about.

I am a walking compendium of trivia of every sort, and, lest you think I lack depth, I point to my near encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese history, the work of e.e. cummings, and the life cycle of the blowfly.

Which brings me to today’s topic: Space. Not space as in NASA Space Center, but the physical space that exists, and apparently must exist, between human beings.

When Paul Simon was cataloging the “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” he didn’t list the one heard most often in the self-absorbed 70s and 80s, the one heard most often last month and last week and probably at the close of a thousand painful partings last night: I need my space.

Do human beings need space?

Everyone has a sense of where his own “personal space” begins and ends. Like an aura it surrounds and insulates us from unwanted familiarity; if someone intrudes upon our space we feel violated and even threatened.

Love and lust and simple chemistry alter the boundaries, at least for a time, but the decision to allow another into our personal space doesn’t negate its existence: the space is always there.

Watching the crowds of beachgoers, and the crowds of wading birds at the shore last week I was struck by the similarity between the two groups.

The birds were lined up along the along the edge of the water, perfectly positioned, each one an equal distance from the next. When a new bird set down in their midst, every one moved as far as necessary to restore the equilibrium.

With mathematical precision, the sunbathers took up their positions on the sand as if each was surrounded by an invisible force field designed to repel marauders.

I watched as a swimmer who had drifted with the tide and come ashore out of place, tip-toed gingerly along the water line until he reached his little piece of the island, where he executed a perfect right turn and returned to his place in the sun.

Why are we so afraid to let others into our space? What are we afraid of?

Until we can figure that out, I can’t see that we have much chance of overcoming the other barriers, no less real, that separate us from one another