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How Small the World Is

I’d like to share one of my favorite photographs with you. First, follow this link to see it. Take a good look; let your eyes and mind wander over it. Then meet me back here.

So what’d you think? Was it jaw-dropping? Or, shoulder-shrugging? If you experienced the latter, you’re not alone. Manual Alvarez Bravo is most well known for photographs with a surreal bent and those that speak to issues of social justice or Mexican culture. By contrast, this image is nonchalant and unapologetic in its ordinariness: two people passing each other on the sidewalk. Hardly a Kodak moment.

But for over ten years, this fleeting blink of life—captured indefinitely in Bravo’s image—has captivated my mind and has made me return to it time and again.

Take a look again at those two people in the image. The man has a purposeful, long-stridden walk, newspaper in hand. The woman might be carrying a parcel of food to an unknown destination. The two appear to be strangers to one another. If they gave a passing greeting or even made eye contact, it was so brief that no trace remains of it in the photograph.

Yet, their lives cross paths here—an inconsequential occurrence that is, at the same time, extraordinary. Imagine for a moment the entire lifespans of the man and the woman, stretching all the way to their births, through childhood and adolescence, and into adulthood. The entire trajectories of their unique lives has been leading right up to this very moment, the one in the photo, of passing each other on a sidewalk.

The same can be said for me at this moment. The arc of my life experience has led up to right now as I write these words. And yours too, as you read them. Consider this the next time you meet a new person. Or, the next time you pass someone on the street. The circumstances that intersected your lives might indeed be ordinary, but the intersection itself is nothing short of incredible. 

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