SAYEH'S LIVING LITHE! 31 Oct 2012
When I was studying abroad in France a lifetime ago, my roommate introduced me to a friend of hers from home who was studying abroad in Madrid. This fellow struck me as light years older and more sophisticated than me. He talked about traveling all over the world (my study abroad stint was my first time in Europe) to places like the Wailing Wall in Israel and the Great Pyramids of Giza with complete nonchalance and almost...disinterest. I would periodically stop him as he spoke to gasp and ooh and ahh. You've been to the PYRAMIDS? Were they amazing? You went to ISRAEL? Was it incredible?
My new acquaintance would look at me in a quizzical way and say: I mean. They were alright.
ALRIGHT?! The pyramids were just alright? This went on throughout the evening. You mean to tell me the 6 months you lived in Italy were just...OKAY? Finally, seemingly confused and slightly irritated by my incredulity, he said something I will never forget:
Well, it's the human condition isn't it? I mean you spend all this time planning and preparing for something, and then it finally arrives...and it's great and everything, but it's also always a little disappointing in a way, isn't it? The pyramids are beautiful, but like...it's SUPER hot, and people start to smell less than great. And then you look around, and there are pyramids...sure, but then there are giant trashcans there too, and the bus has made you motion sick and people are pushing and shoving. And so there you are, but you feel like crap, and need to go to the bathroom despite the fact that you went before you left like you're supposed to and there isn't one that's even remotely close by anyway. So you're trying to feel the moment, but really it's way too bright, you are sweating profusely and you have to pee.
I was shocked. Usually people come back from vacation saying how stunning and inspiring and life changing their travels are. No one ever admits that traveling can actually kind of suck. The airports are crowded, the lines to the museums are long, and you do get hot and sweaty and tired. This was a revelation. This guy was on to something. I hoped I would never be as jaded as him about seeing wonders of the world, but I also admired his honesty. Thus the phrase Human Condition was born, and my girlfriend and I still use it to this day.
Me: How was that weekend away in upstate New York that you were really looking forward to?
Her: Oh you know. It was fun petting llamas, but they kinda smell and I thought my hotel room was haunted. Human Condition.
Me: I hear ya.
So when I was in Istanbul last week, a trip I had been anticipating for months, the Human Condition was definitely on my mind when I went to the Blue Mosque, one of the places I had been looking forward to the most. Sadly, after waiting in line and dutifully covering my hair with a scarf, I was sent running out of there from the thick, pungent smell of feet (they make the thousands of tourists take off their shoes before they enter). Barely holding it together, I looked at my boyfriend and said, Yup, this place sure is blue. I'm good. Let's GO!
So I was thus inspired to write a blog about the Human Condition, and how we all experience it to some degree. Not just when we are traveling, but when we are getting ready for work, and we spill our coffee or when a birthday surprise goes horribly awry, to the times when we try to workout and everything seems to be going against us. But then Sandy came and went in all its fury and made me realize that the human condition is something else entirely that my original blog idea just didn't seem right anymore.
During the storm, I sat in my Center City house munching on Doritos and Chips Ahoy (nonperishable food items, duh) and caught up on episodes of Boardwalk Empire with my boyfriend, grateful for an excuse to be lazy. I kept looking out my window waiting for the rain to come down in torrential sheets and for the wind to take the patio furniture we decided to leave outside off into the distance. But, it never happened. I have to admit that although I was nervous about the storm, I was slightly disappointed. I had a romantic notion of firing up candles and cuddling up in the cold. But the storm came and went, our power stayed on, and we even strolled to La Colombe for hot chocolate.
Then I turned on Nightly News with Brian Williams and was astounded by what I saw. I couldn't believe the flooding in NYC and the Jersey shore. I was shocked by how many people were killed by downed trees, and how many homes were destroyed in Queens by a fire that was carried from home to home by the high winds. I felt guilty that I had been hoping for a little more action in our neck of the woods, and was struck my how fragile everything and everyone is, and how quickly things as seemingly solid and immutable as coastline, could be washed away and redrawn.
And of course in the midst of those stories, as is always the case in times of tragedy, heroic stories were emerging too. The neighbors that helped each other to safety. The first responders that rescued the people that decided to ride it out, despite repeated warnings to evacuate. The power companies across the country that were sending reinforcements our way to help people get their power back as soon as possible. I was even taken aback by how many of my own friends and acquaintances emailed and Facebooked and texted me from back home and other places in the country to make sure I was ok. The whole nation was watching and praying and hoping before the storm hit, and are doing the same now in the face of what looks to be the beginning of a very long recovery process.
So yes, the Human Condition had me feeling a little bored and listless while cooped up for several days, and yes I admittedly ran gagging from one of the most architecturally astounding buildings in the world. But, if Sandy has taught me one thing, it's that it's much more than that. It's that we're all in this together, despite election year feelings of polarization and separation, and that although storms like Sandy can make us feel powerless and insignificant for a little while, we are much stronger than we think...especially when we join forces.
My thoughts are with everyone impacted by the storm and grateful that for the most part, Philly's human condition was a relatively unscathed one.
See you in class.