I’ve been in Santa Cruz for several months now (you can tell by the shoes) and I can’t help noticing that people are nicer here. They make eye contact and smile, they chat with ‘strangers’ in groups, they offer quiet compliments in passing, they have amazing style, but each to their own, there’s none of that insecure fashion sheep bs, when a traffic light changes, no one even honks!
It baffled me. Where’s all the anger? Why aren’t people being shitty to each other? How can it be that the people with money don’t seem to think they are more important than everyone else? Why, I thought, do people seem to get along so much better here? For a while it all seemed utterly mysterious until it clicked.
People here are happier. They are accepting of others, their lives are richer, fuller, more magnificent because of the others passing through life with them. I’m as likely to see a in a generic business suit having coffee with a friend sporting multiple piercings and dreadlocks as a cop sharing a laugh with college kids celebrating 420 with a joint so huge seven people had to claim shared ownership as only one ounce is allowed to a person in public at a time. It was a defence the men and women in blue were happy to accept. With a shrug and a smile of relief that they didn’t have to crucify anyone for having fun, they high-fived the group and moved on.
I have days when I can’t stop smiling.
And every time I see multi racial children with their ultra-white granddad or some ‘scary’ black dude offering help with such gentleness to a Korean exchange student who can’t figure out the bus system, I’m awed. This is how it’s supposed to be. There’s very little fear of others because they don’t look like you.
It’s not that I didn’t see these things in other places, I did, but not to the same degree, or any where near as frequently as I do here.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a horrible homeless problem, there is crime, there are racists, though I haven’t personally witnessed any blatant discrimination here yet— not something I can say about Los Angeles or Atlanta or even New York. But I’m not that naïve, It’s here. There are dangerous drugs and mental illness, there is domestic abuse, of course there is. Santa Cruz isn’t some Shangri La, just a pocket of humanity brave enough to dream we could live in a place that is at least Shangri La adjacent. You know, not Eden, but one of it’s suburbs.
Living in a community where you actively seek to interact with many others, each quite different, on a daily basis as opposed to avoiding human contact unless they are the exact same as you, is enriching. Differences are embraced, celebrated, and above all respected. It’s like living in a museum that displays multiple artists and art forms, holds concerts for all types of music and dance performances from every culture, instead of just one bland canvas done in weak pastels that everyone allowed to enter can agree is ‘very nice.’
One reason people seem so happy here is that this city is a blending of business, art, university, nature and community. One reason is the ocean, so close and so calming. One reason is the forests, filled with ancient trees and budding life. One reason is that it’s hard to start an argument with people who are generous, sharing, and accepting of the fact that maybe that mean guy just had a really hard day.
I’ve watched many people, including my daughter, share their food with the homeless, seen construction workers offer a tarp to a couple without shelter, witnessed an entire group of young people at a farmer’s market care about a stranger who had just been ditched by her boyfriend. Nothing obvious, they just sat down near her and spoke softly and kindly until the tears subsided, then they invited her to join them for lunch. Many of you who are reading this would have rejected this group out of hand, they were tattooed, some barefoot, they wore beads and symbols of coexistence, they probably did yoga in the park for god’s sake, but their empathy made them worth more than any movie star or millionaire in that moment. Would you have made an effort to comfort a complete stranger in a fragile state?
And every day I go out three times to walk my dog. Sometimes I don’t feel like it, I’m tired, or working, or just lazy, and every time, I’m glad I went out.
Every time I meet someone great, like Elissa, my downstairs neighbor who happens to have a degenerative muscle disease, a love of writing, and a wicked sense of humor, or Stuart who sits on the corner during the frequent bike or foot races along the ocean route and applauds every single one of the participants. Every. Single. One. It takes hours, and the grateful reactions he gets makes me think that he has chosen his occupation well.
It’s been hard lately to stay positive about my race—and I’m referring to the human race. With the many dicks in the white house and the constant barrage of empowered hatred, ignorance, and dark-ages religious dogma causing so much pain in the world, so senselessly, it’s enough to make me want to give up and live in a cave.
Or not at all. If we can’t live together with dignity, what’s the point?
So last night, after yet another day of being horrified by images of substandard human behavior, I went out at the smoky coal end of dusk. My eyes were cast down and I felt as though enthusiasm and hope had been vacuumed from my body leaving me spent and disgusted. People suck, I thought. Even people I once respected have fallen so far from grace in my eyes and my heart that I can’t even look at them. As I walked the half block toward the shining silver sea, a car slowed for the intersection on the street over looking the ocean. It was too dark and far away for me to see who was in it, but as the car came to a stop, I heard the voice of young girl, maybe six, shouting out the window, “Hello! Hello!” she called to the world outside, to everyone. Not to me in particular, there were many people out walking much closer to her than I was. She was angling for an answer, trolling for a connection, fishing for a friend, and I understood that.
Because I’m me, and I don’t give a crap how stupid I look, or care if anyone knows what I’m doing or why, I answered. That innocent voice in the twilight deserved a response.
“Hello!” I shouted, waving madly from thirty yards away. I had no idea if the kid could even see me. I just wanted her to know she’d been heard, that we were out here, that her joy and her friendliness would be reciprocated by other, like-minded souls. The car began to pull away from the stop sign and just before it was out of earshot, the little voice called out four more words.
“I like your jacket!” it rang out, filling the coming night with presence.
I threw my head back and laughed then shouted back, “Thank you!”
I don’t know if she heard me, but that’s okay, because the ‘thank you’ wasn’t just for her, it was for her spirit, the effect she had had on the air, the universe, the love of sharing a moment.
Four words, and my faith in humanity was not just restored but recharged. I felt as though I had received a benediction. A blessedly religion-free benediction of possibility.
What will you shout today? Will it be in anger or joy?
If it’s joy, share it. Shout it.
And I will answer.
Shari, August 15, 2017