Stand a Little Closer

"...the subway gave us much more than a way to work and back home. It gave us an object of pride and fascination, fear and loathing. It gave us a permanent topic of conversation and a perfect excuse for being late. It gave poets a new muse and moviemakers a new set. It gave warmth to the cold, a bed to the weary and a captive audience to anyone with a cheap guitar. 
But it also gave another gift, much less appreciated and more important, one that changed the city fundamentally and forever: the gift of proximity. In other words, the subway made us sit together. And stand together." 

The above is from a book I'm currently reading, Subwayland: Adventures in the World Beneath New York by Randy Kennedy. And although the New York subway and the Seoul metro are a world apart, I think this idea of proximity is universal, and maybe even much more realized here in Korea. For proximity in the U.S. involves American ideas of personal space and privacy, culturally based guidelines on staring and physical contact, and proximity here... well, if you've read any of my posts on Rage in the A.M., you know about the reality of Korean proximity. 

I've been in a weird place emotionally this week for several reasons. One of the main reasons is that I've been here almost 6 months and I'm still realizing how unsettled I am. I discovered Monday that one of my most valued friendships has run its course, and I'm still trying to catch my breath. Keun Ha is dealing with headaches (MRI was clean, thank goodness) that are probably stress-induced and I'm inclined to believe I'm helping the stress sometimes rather than relieving it. So, after an odd Monday-Wednesday, Thursday morning I found myself on the train as usual.

And there was no Rage. 

 He was tall, wearing a navy t-shirt. He was wearing glasses and his nose was round. His hair was shaggy, but not messy. He had his earphones in and was standing next to me, hanging onto the handles with both hands, like me. He was enjoying himself on this morning, sometimes closing his eyes and mouthing the words to his song. He was warm. Not physically warm, although that may have been the case. But I'm talking about a warmth I can't necessarily define or explain. His arm was touching mine and instead of moving every which way possible to keep anyone from touching me, I simply enjoyed being close to this human being. I didn't move when he inched closer to me to let someone stand on the other side of him. I felt comfortable. And that's not something I normally experience on the subway ride to work. 

It reminded me of driving. You're driving down the interstate and you begin to notice that the car in front of you is headed in the same direction at the same pace. You become used to looking at his taillights, you unwittingly memorize his license plate, you imagine he is listening to the same album with the cruise control on, his hands resting comfortably at 4 and 8 like yours. And all of a sudden he exits! Without any warning, not a kindly blinker or anything, he's gone. And you realize you have no idea who was in that car, but it felt nice to be traveling with someone, heading in the same direction. So you adjust yourself in your seat, shifting in your realization that you've just become emotionally attached to a car

And I transferred at Jamsil, willing this tall, oblivious man to follow me. But he didn't. Once more my telepathic abilities bow in submission to the language barrier. I mean, really that's obviously the only reason he didn't get my message. 

But I was thinking about how thirsty I must be, how starved for community I am here. And I'm not talking about just spending time with someone in the same room, although it seems that's all it would take at this point to satisfy me. I want to be with like-minded people, those who are seeking to love, to serve, and to connect in a way that is only found between humans. I am hungry for my friends, particularly those I can no longer have, and those that are too far away. 

So here I am. Participating in this community, where our greatest desire is to be heard, to be read, to be considered of worth just because we are here, just because we are writing. 

I'm going to go downstairs and sit in happy communion with the Coffee Shop Lady. She doesn't speak English and my Korean is so very poor, but we sit together and we smile at each other and we feel together. Sometimes proximity is a worthy substitute for genuine fellowship, because sometimes proximity is all you have. 


  1. I'm very sorry to hear about the loss of a valued friendship. I know that kidn of loss, the way it both stings and leaves an emotional cavity, whatever the circumstances. Hopefully memories of friendship are not tarnished by its final moment.

    And I hope GuenHa feels better soon. Inexplicably induced headaches are sometimes worse than when the cause is known (especially if its just a lack of coffee). Give him my best as always.

    Perhaps things unfold in the fullness of time. I hope your pilgramage finds an intermediary point -a sense of belonging and community even if transitory. In the meantime, looking forward to seeing you in December when I'm in Korea.


  2. beautifully done, danielle. the last two-three paragraphs, i can identify with that feeling of longing to belong to a group. thanks for putting it so well.

  3. That feeling is a whole world over feeling. I take the long way from the parking garage to work so I can pass the construction workers because they say good morning to me. I will hold off exiting for a bathroom while driving because I don't want to leave the pack of cars around me. I think that it is easy, in a world that is so totally connected and bombarded by words and images and other people, to be lonely without realizing it. Good luck in finding your place in the world, but know that you aren't the only one looking.

  4. you may not speak korean very well, but you understand the language of humans incredibly well.

    beautifully stated.


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