REM lost their religion. William Shakespeare lost doubt. Edgar Allan Poe lost his mind. I’m over here wondering if I’ve lost my anonymity even though I’m not interested in figuring out where it went.
I think it was the day I decided to start a blog that I had to come to terms with my own anonymity. Many of you out there might also refer to this as privacy. I knew I would always be a lightening rod of controversy and wanted to explore provocative subjects, so losing my anonymity was something I had to think about.
It wasn’t long ago that I realized this new affliction had affected me in other ways that had nothing to do with blogging.
We moved from a sprawling urban area bustling with folks of all kinds, to a tiny beach town where goals include owning a Yeti cooler. I’m not knocking that because it is a simpler way of life here without the noise and racket of a big place and it’s stunningly beautiful. For me though, this meant not being able to walk into my favorite restaurant to dine alone without seeing someone that knew me. That’s not always a bad thing, but after a while it can start to feel a bit overwhelming.
I like dining alone and my husband travels for work, so that leaves me to my own devices on many occasions. Dining out alone to me is an adventure and one I enjoy. But here it gets me a lot of uncomfortable stares. I’m not sure why. It feels like that time I went to the movies alone and could hear the young girls behind me whispering about how sad I looked eating my popcorn. Like I was so heinous I couldn’t even drum up a companion to see a flick with. I remember chuckling because even with my hearing impairment I could still hear them which meant everyone else in the theater could hear them too. I was quite the spectacle that day.
I normally don’t flaunt my confidence or my comfort level with keeping company with myself, but I have to confess that I happen to enjoy hanging out with me. That doesn’t mean I’m Greta Garbo, it means I don’t need other people in order to be entertained or feel complete. I am perfectly content to eat a meal while observing and absorbing the room around me, as I am to sit across from the handsome face of my husband to talk about our day together.
Life in a small town is an interesting study in human behavior, mostly my own behavior.
I was at the hospital last week waiting on a friend to finish testing and walking down the hall with a hand full of balloons was a woman that I really admired. I knew her and knew her name. I had actually hugged her a few times, so you’d assume we would stop in the hall and share pleasantries, maybe hug, maybe not, and then go about our day with an extra smile or two about a lovely encounter.
I was moving into “hello mode” with a smile spreading across my face as we drew closer. She was looking back at me and smiling too. Just as we were in speaking distance she turned her head and kept right on stepping down the hall leaving behind the click-click sound of her silver heels on the tiled floor. I was left in “hello mode” and required a quick readjust to avoid looking too confused and slightly embarrassed.
What had just happened?!
This was actually a normal small town encounter that was explained to me by my favorite millennial. “Oh no! Even if you make eye contact you don’t normally speak. You just go about your business like they’re invisible. If you stop and speak to everyone you see you’ll never get anything done. Besides I make a point of avoiding anyone I see in stores or while I’m out running errands. If you’re looking rough or haven’t brushed your hair, it gives them something to gossip about.” I told her that I did not know about this custom.
So in essence, these folks are granting you a sort of anonymity by simply refusing to acknowledge you have a connection.
I sent my husband a text from this small restaurant I found while out running errands one afternoon. I was surprised to find the patrons were all people I have never seen out and about. I remember sitting there enjoying my lunch. It was a serene moment, almost like being inside a bubble of my own making. I could look around and no one looked back at me. No one stared and no one whispered. They were all too busy taking care of the business of eating and getting on with their day. I told my husband that the fear of losing my anonymity had disappeared in this restaurant and it felt like a great place to come whenever I felt like our tiny beach town had gotten too small. His return text was a great reality check.
“Just wait until summer comes. Then there will be a lot of people here you’ve never seen before.”
If you ever feel like you’ve become too exposed, or you feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of being known, just remember that to be out here and to be familiar is a blessing and a privilege that most folks may never know. Feel the warmth and light that being a part of the human race affords us all and be grateful when someone reaches out to you in “hello mode” to offer the embrace that only comes with making that connection.
Until next time this is Madeline Laughs and I’m flexing my beach chair muscles and getting ready to work on my tan lines!