Emily Articulated

Human interactions

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

With the world feeling like it’s starting to reopen, and the edges of our confinement slowly peeling back into this newest version of “normalcy,” I’ve noticed a reclamation of a subtler kind of interaction. By returning to a way of life that simply involves closer proximity to others, I’m reminded of the kinds of conversations that happen without words, and the shared, relatable experiences that can only be described as human. 

Emily Erickson.

It’s stepping into a long empty hallway in a building somewhere. The lights hum overhead as you walk on at full stride. As your cadence steadies, someone exits from a room ahead of you and turns their gait to face yours. They begin to close the distance and, suddenly, in an attempt to find a clear path around each other, you’re both locked in a tango of mirrored zigs and zags — two people veering in the wrong direction to get out of one another’s way. It’s a back-and-forth that lasts a few moments, but creates tension enough only to be burst by an abrupt pause, an awkward giggle or a pointed signal that insulates, “No, I’ll go this way.” 

It’s pulling into a parking space at the exact same time as someone else, your bumpers edging in equidistance to the door of the coffee shop at which you’re both arriving. Your focus moves from wherever it had been to an involuntary calculation of the time it will take to reach the door and settle into your place in the line inside. Your side-eye glance meets theirs, prompting silent attempts to establish who will play the role of door-opener and who will walk through, hands-free. It’s a mutual decision so subtle that it feels removed from choice but has an outcome so clear that you know you made it together.

It’s being the first to enter an elevator and noticing a foul smell lingering from the person who left before you arrived. The odor fills the space, seemingly seeping through the fabric of your shirt and cocooning you in its presence. You will the doors to close, needing the ride to be brief, when someone squeezes through into the space with you. You watch their face as they register the smell, their eyes flitting to you in knowing recognition. Your brain swims in shoulds and should-nots — like whether you should say something about the smell that lingered before you arrived, or if an acknowledgment would only strengthen their association between you and the permeating flatulent odor. The silence booms around you both, wrapping you in a shared experience of embarrassment and discomfort, only to be relieved by the freeing “ping” of arrival at your floor.

It’s picking your way through a crowded room and nudging your way to an open sliver of bar top. You scan the space in front of you, absorbing the rows of bottles and lists of drinks until you find the beverage you think you’ll order. You raise your eyes to find the bartender, attempting to catch their eye with the perfect mix of eagerness and patience; of respect and urgency. They bustle around in a blur of business and concentration, until you pull out your credit card and arrange your hands to signal your efficiency. You give a small smile and nod when they look in your direction, and they match your gesture in an unspoken acknowledgment — a pending transaction to which you both have quietly agreed. 

It’s these interactions that feel so natural — like unwritten rules that live inside us or ways of being to which we must have subscribed when it was decided we’d be human — that make our existence so very relatable.

Inside these relatable interactions, the subtle and unspoken social contracts between people who might otherwise have very little in common, is the thing that can always bring us back together: the wonder and absurdity of being a person among people.

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