A few degrees of freedom

I am befuddled by the size of the world sometimes. I gaze outside at the rows and columns of people and cars and buildings, and I imagine the enormity of the number of people these boxes hold, the number that I do not know, would not recognize, and would perhaps never meet. And then, I think about the rows and columns of these same structures that exist outside of my plane of vision, in this district, in this city, and in the thousands of other cities which exist throughout this country and the rest of the world. That number is such an exaggeration; my eyes can barely tell what one thousand people look like, much less ten thousand, one million, one billion. Yet, even within this structure, this world that seems so big and boundless and unknowable, I find that it’s easier to bring people together rather than push them apart. In Beijing, in a city with more than 22 million people, I find that coincidences happen. I run into people I know at every corner, on every subway ride, every time I visit the places I call my own. In some ways, my life here in Beijing is fast becoming my life in Boston, no longer anonymous, instead filled with familiar and unavoidable meetings with familiar and unavoidable beings. It’s good, I suppose, living in this global community, a web of travelers, traipsing, never stopping, blanketing the surface of this planet with our inability to settle down.

The multiple occasions during which my friends have traveled to a different city and encountered another friend of mine are now more than fluke coincidences. The messages of, guess who I met in , they say they’re a friend of yours, interrupt my daily rhythm with a wry smile and a sincere appreciation for chance. The world is at once huge and unbridgeable and tiny and familiar. Sometimes, I fear that it’s no bigger than the address book in my blackberry, but then I throw open the shades for some perspective.

Location: Beijing, China

First Boston, then New York

The places that meant a lot to me still mean a lot to me, regardless of how much I hastened to remove myself from their presence not so long ago. Funny thing about Boston, how it can feel so small and at the same time still boast so much to be explored. I can’t go anywhere in this city without running into someone I know, pleasantly or otherwise.

Not necessarily a bad thing, relationships change and morph over time: enemies to friends, friends to lovers, lovers to cautious acquaintances and so on and so forth. Problems arise when one person starts fulfilling all of those roles, a sort of mega-agglomeration of all your relationships, a multi-facet, loved and hated, respected and despised. The people here, they are exquisitely incestuous, building up layers and layers of relationships across the same bridged chasms. At some point, you’ve got to step back and take a breather, look down at the tangled web of strings you’ve knotted yourself into, and decide it’s time to start fresh. Move to a new city, run away, start snipping those unimportant ties, cast out a new line — desperately seeking new friends — and hope for someone several degrees of separation away to bite.

Stepping back into it, the complexity, the drama, was rather fascinating. It’s subtle at first, those little shifts in behavior (affection is rather difficult to hide). I like seeing it, those changes, those small stepwise modifications, it speaks to the passage of time. But what always strikes me as equally wonderful is the way I can pick up where I left off, that the people who meant a lot to me still mean a lot to me; that speaks to the integrity of human emotion.

Location: Boston, Massachusetts