Jessica Gross

The Point of Commonality

In musings, people watching on September 29, 2008 at 10:56 am

On Friday, my father took me on a dinner cruise around Manhattan. When we got to the Statue of Liberty, the band played America the Beautiful and the whole cruise emptied onto the deck to take pictures. I scoffed at the multitudes snapping digital shots of the big green lady (“Do you think this is what it was like coming in to Ellis Island?” someone joked).

As I tried to overcome my hokeyness aversion and appreciate the statue’s symbolic power, another ship passed by. Everyone on our boat started waving at the strangers on the other one. My brother, who was standing next to me, commented on how weird this was. “It’s like, the farther away you are from the point of commonality, the less you need to have in common,” he said.

This sounded brilliant, but I had no idea what he meant. After he explained several times to his slow sister, I realized that it actually was brilliant. Take a random high school friend who you never spoke to back in the day. If you run into each other on a street in your hometown, you’ll avert your eyes. But if you run into each other on a street in Zimbabwe, you’ll act like old friends (“Well, I never!”). In the case of the boat, you wouldn’t start waving to somebody on your boat. But if you see other strangers who randomly happen to be in the water, you jump for joy. How fantastical — there’s more than one dinner cruise ship in Manhattan! What a fun coincidence!

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