Monday, April 23, 2007
Almost Certainly About Someone Else

If I could get one new tradition rolling -- ignite the meme and watch it spread -- I think I'd want to change how we do birthdays. Don't get me wrong -- I'm down with cake and presents, though my personal birthday preferences are PF Chang's, tiki cocktails, and a late movie. But the whole purpose behind celebrating somebody's birthday, as I see it, is to show them some love, to tell them that you're glad they were born and that you get to know them while they're here. So why don't we do that? Why isn't that part of the birthday thing? We get free ice cream and people have to be nice to us for the day, but of all the days when we never actually tell people that they are loved and valued, shouldn't that be one day when we do? I've already started doing it with my patented birthday posts; I think I'm going to make it an official tradition and see if I can get it to spread.

Today, as it happens, is Earth's birthday. And this is the first time I get to do this for him, so I'm going to lay it on thick. So what shall I say about Earth? I can tell you about a couple of things that almost certainly don't involve him:

Back towards the end of my time in London -- the exact timing is fuzzy, though I can see it clearly in my mind -- I saw a guy on the tube, twice. The first time, I know, was at Embankment station, on the Northern line. I saw him before we got on, walking into the station and riding down the escalators. I didn't see him on the platform, but once we were on the train, there he was, in the same car, standing maybe fifteen feet away. He was tall, slim, dark-haired, bag slung around his body -- not unlike lots of other guys on the tube. But he looked up at me, and he smiled. Not in a "how you doin'?" way, just a sweet, warm smile. I don't know if I smiled back or not... I hope I did. I tried not to stare at him for the short ride to Waterloo, where I got off.

I saw him again a few days later, at a totally different time of day. I didn't even see him coming that time, I just looked up and there he was, smiling at me again. It was striking, y'see, because in the three years that I rode the tube on a daily basis, I don't think I ever saw the same person twice, and I know for a fact that I never got smiled at by the same person twice. In fact, apart from him, I don't think I ever got smiled at by anyone at all. When he popped up the second time, I only remember feeling flustered and not knowing what to do. I guess I just rode to Waterloo again and got off. I've always quietly cursed myself for not saying hello to that smiling guy.

That almost certainly, practically definitely wasn't Earth. But it could've been. He was in London around that time, passing through the districts that I frequented. But still... almost certainly not.

Or I could tell you about a boy I used to watch when I was thirteen years old. My first year in a public school, I was a hopeless, irredeemable dork -- that's what happens when you've grown up in a private school uniform. I was a doofy 6th grader in the Houston suburbs, riding the bus home every afternoon. I sat in the third row from the front, by the window. After picking up the junior high kids, our bus would make the short trip to the high school to pick up the teenagers without cars, and I rode on the side of the bus that faced the school, so every afternoon I would watch the older kids while we waited for Tammy Cross and the other unlucky ones to get on board. There were a few faces I tended to notice over and over. One of them was this skinny boy with dark hair that hung in his face. The details on this one are much fuzzier, but for some reason I associate him with the color yellow, though I don't remember anything yellow about him. Maybe it was just the bus. I didn't see him every day, but I saw him sometimes, and I always ended up watching him when he was there.

That kid probably wasn't Earth either. I mean, seriously, there were hundreds of kids at that school, so chances are slim that that was him. But he was there. We grew up in the same vicinity, and he was at that very high school that year. So you never know, it's possible. But that almost definitely wasn't him.

The year after that, his life spun off in one direction and mine in another. We never met each other, nor did we ever meet in London. No, I only managed to intersect with him in August, from 2000 miles away. I was clicking around, like you do, when his photographs stopped me dead in my tracks. I found out all the rest of this afterwards. I'd say that at the time it felt like a big cosmic pointer -- "pay attention, this person might be important" -- but I don't believe in that nonsense, obviously, so I won't.

Instead, I'll just say that I'm incredibly glad that I finally caught up with him. He's got a brilliant mind, he's shockingly talented, and yet he's very grounded (though not without a bit of a mercurial streak, in my humble opinion.) There's never any sense of guile or dishonesty in this guy -- some people, I'm sure, would prefer he kept some of his thoughts to himself, but I'm not one of them. I don't know him that well yet, but of what I do know, I've seen nothing that I don't like. So what I'll say to him is that I'm glad he was born and I'm so glad that I get to know him while he's here. As short a time as I've known him, he's become one of my absolute favorite people. I consider it my good fortune to be able to count him among my friends, and I hope I'll be able to call him so for a long time to come.

By which I really mean, happy birthday, Earth.
1:11 PM ::
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