Flaneur Society

From The Guide to Getting Lost

Like most busy, urban people, I used to dislike “dead” time. Unproductive time. Waiting in lines. Long commutes. A laundry list of tasks and deadlines hanging over one’s head.

I was waiting on a friend and what began as 20 minutes ballooned into what would be over two hours. In the meantime, I wandered the neighbourhood browsing bookstores and observing the people passing through the streets.

A filthy bundle of baggy clothes curled up on a bench roused itself and I caught the face of its wearer. Instead of the crusty old man I’d expected, it was a beautiful woman with whom I shared a smile.

A small toddler and I made eye contact. I winked at the child, who burst into a giddy grin, like we had just shared an outrageous secret. The parents remained oblivious.

A twentysomething couple in front of a closed store were having an intense and uncomfortable discussion about their relationship, clearly unplanned. Half an hour later, as I walked by them again, they were still at it.

I passed by so many people in those two hours: young and old, rich and poor, languages of all kinds, half of which I didn’t recognize. Some with take out or groceries, others on bikes, a few with fingers glued to smartphones. A woman I’d seen browsing a bookstore walked by with her purchase.

All these people, I thought, will smile, will make mistakes, will give, will hurt and then they’ll die. And I thought that this is where I feel most comfortable. In between destinations, in between stories. From a low vantage, creeping the city’s streets and gutters, going nowhere, nothing to do, it’s easier somehow to grasp how marvellous and complex our world is.

These days, I can will my perception to open and find the world expanded and flooded with light. Living things take on a remarkable salience until they are almost shining, hyper-real, incredibly precious. My once familiar neighbourhood is set aflame and the mere thought of it is enough to move me to tears, as if I am too small to contain the vastness of it all so that it must spill out the eyes. I’m not sure what to do with this vision for I still spend most of my life seeing the world as I did before, as a blind woman, an unredeemed woman. But it seems to me that more and more, my default position is to receive everything.

I feel as if I have spent the past two years on fire, but have only recently acquiesced to my own self-immolation. It’s like I can see the last dregs of my own resistance, once so scalding and opaque, now reduced to a silty, bitter semi-circle, smiling at me from the bottom of the cup I’ve been drinking from. Because I’ve been hard at work, processing, processing, processing the power, digesting its impurities and trying resist the impulse to punt it off on any number of ready victims just to take the pressure off myself.

And now, strangely, it seems there’s nothing left for me to do except let the dregs burn clean and witness this world dissolving into light.