We always have something, perhaps just one thing, in common with others.
That thought struck me as one of our neighbors invited us to stop by and see his Christmas flamingos. Who would have guessed that this perfectly straight guy, married to a woman, always puttering in his workroom, not only collected flamingo paraphernalia, but had a collection extensive enough to sort seasonally. He’d seen the neon flamingo in our window, though, and our three front yard flamingos (two pink, one brown), and maybe the flamingo crossing sign hanging in our garage. In any case, and unexpectedly, we have the amazing pink birds in common.
These commonalities usually come as a shock. If someone had told me, back in the radical, separatist, feminist, lesbian good old days, that I would be oohing and ahhing every December over a lighted holiday boat parade with a group of dykes that included highly-skilled professionals: wildlife biologist, teachers, lawyer, city planner, published writers, librarian, nurse, and banker—I would have rolled my eyes and said, “Oh, sure.” We had our affectional preference in common, but we weren’t there to hoist rainbow flags, we wanted to see the pretty boats go around in circles in the rain. Silly saps.
At no time has it been more clear to me than now, with my arm in a sling, how very much humans have in common with one another. I’m suddenly a magnet. Yesterday a neighbor repeatedly jabbed a finger toward my arm and sputtered until she could get the question out: “What happened?” People who have never before initiated conversations with me inevitably want to talk about their own rotator cuff surgery, or their cousin’s, or their childhood broken arm, or their fear of a long, difficult rehabilitation. Others boast that they prefer living with the pain. The sight of a sling must bring out the kinship of human frailty.
Now and then I have lunch with a group of women. Within that group is a smaller one: the rebels. Somehow we recognized in one another a tendency to stray from the norm. As we get acquainted we confirm this more and more, collectively renouncing organized religion, traditional women’s roles, retirement hobbies and catch as catch can work. We’re still revealing our herstories: the Utah gay activist, the vegan tai chi instructor, the oboe player, the animal activist. We love to misbehave, white hair or not, and, always the rule breakers, the progressives, we revel in our various othernesses.
There’s a human need to find bonds no matter how tenuous. I first recognized it in my mother, a Boston expat in New York City. You would have thought she’d moved to Lapland or, at the least, Marfa, Texas. She watched for Massachusetts license plates, was thrilled to meet others with New England accents, and thought anyplace south of Rhode Island was Sin City. Never mind the evils of burlesque-mad Scolley Square in its heyday. Now I, too, am ebullient to find people from my home state who’ve settled out west.
Fox News may be Big Brother’s elevator music, but even the neighbor who sings the abysmal Fox lyrics likes to take his daily walk through the neighborhood during the sun’s brief late afternoon appearance, the same time I prefer to walk. After one of his scrofulous anti-Obama remarks I could only stare at him literally open-mouthed. Now this scruffy little dyke and the towering bigot exchange wary smiles and consistently joke about something we all share: the weather.
The woman who moved in down the way is a housewife and mother from Montana. She’s completely foreign to me in terms of geography, lifestyle, you name it. One day she stopped to see why I was staring at a tree. When I told her I was trying to identify a bird, she joined me and we took turns naming possible species, confirming markings, sharing what we could remember. Next time I see her I’ll let her know it was a Ruby-crowned kinglet. We may have nothing else to tie us together, but we can talk birds.
And lights. She thanked my sweetheart and me for decorating one of our small fir trees with fairy lights. As the holiday decorations spread from the boat parade across town to our hilltop, we residents admire them and reveal how disappointed we are each year when they come down. I was pleased to find I’m not the only one to find comfort in the lights. Apparently, so were the neighbors, because by golly, if this year it didn’t turn out that there are more lights up than ever.
No matter our sometimes wide differences, the bigots and birders, the flamingo and lighted fleet enthusiasts, the rebels and the relocated, we all enjoy connections. We have a need to touch what binds us through our layers of difference. And what binds us is always there.