Monday, October 19, 2009

Strangers Holding Hands

Minutes ago, I asked two strangers to hold hands.  I cannot explain to you how that felt for me. 
Yesterday, I exclaimed that I would complete LTLYM assignment # 20 or 30, but I didn’t.  I had forgotten to carry my camera.
This morning, when I was on my way to the train station, I remembered what I had to do.

 I had a half an hour to work within, because my train was actually going to be on time.
So, the minute I stepped into the station I began looking around for people to approach.  There were many students and I was averse to photographing them.  It would be too easy to approach my peers and I didn’t think the task would hold as much significance for them as they belong to the generation of “randomness”.   There weren’t many people there at such an early hour, I began to doubt if I could actually pull this off.  I was about to take some scene pictures in preparation, but I saw a sign bearing that all- too- familiar post- 9/11 slogan: if you see something, say something (this one actually attempted to charm the public with animals).  I knew that walking around photographing a train station was suspicious.  I felt that had I been stopped, I would have been able to explain myself, but I didn’t want to miss my train, nor did I want to get myself into a situation that would frighten me out of approaching people.  
My train was coming in twelve minutes, but I felt strongly that I had to at least attempt the assignment now or I would psych myself out of doing it altogether.  I was already feeling shaky, but the pressure of the train’s arrival pushed me to act.  I approached this woman coming out of the Friar Tuck convenience store.  I was looking for someone whose body language conveyed a relatively good mood and that he or she was not pressed for time.  I said something like, “Excuse me, hi, my name is Dana, I’m a student at --- and I am doing a conceptual art project where my assignment is to photograph two strangers holding hands. I was wondering if you would be interested in participating.”  She grinned and happily agreed and asked how long it would take because her train would be here soon.

I told her mine was coming soon and she brought me over to her friend. My language had been unclear and she’d understood that the two people only had to be strangers to me, but really they also had to be strangers to each other.  I went to find someone else.  I wanted to find a man, because I thought that would enhance the way the task would challenge our social mores, but I knew immediately by the tired, barely tolerant look on his face that he would say no.  In my head I heard him saying scam artist and weirdo, but I had seven minutes to find someone else, and no time to feel bad. 
 I pinpointed a woman whom I’d spotted before.  She appeared to be traveling alone and she looked calm enough.  I approached her. She agreed, asking how long it would take, and I said only as long as it would take to snap a photograph.

We all discovered that we were traveling on the same train.  They continued to talk and somehow it came up that the third woman had traveled to Italy and they began comparing travel tales.  I was asked about how I liked the train and my major, schooling, and interests.  I was told it was a beautiful project.  One of the women said that she’d been a journalist and the best part of the job was getting to meet and interact with unfamiliar people.  I thought about asking them for their first names or initials, but I thought it was better this way. 
In the end, I wish I’d gotten more people to participate, but I was still so amazed at the incredible thing that did happen.  Strangers were experiencing a bigger moment together than they would have otherwise.  And they chose to continue that moment, that conversation, beyond the seconds it took to snap the photos.  I was exhilarated. 

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