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Open to Serendipity

Everglade's picture

On our walk from Suburban station to the Free Library, most classmates were busy taking pictures of skyscrapers and monumental buildings. I, however, didn’t even press my shutter, which seemed strange since I always say I love photography. The reason was my “photography philosophy”: I see with my eyes, not with my camera, and I won’t start taking photos until the beauty no longer dumbfounds me. And I was dumbfounded then, by so many homeless people in the brightest and most fancy part of the city. In China, I had only seen them in poor suburban and subways, because city inspectors would banish them from visible area, but here they have the freedom to sleep in the perfect Logan Square or under the statue of a war hero, skateboard in Love Square, and look so vibrant under the warm Saturday sun. Just a few steps away, in the small streets straying from the broad and gorgeous Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, their scrawls are everywhere, and when they are merely standing there talking I can sense their movement like dancing. This is what Sharon Zukin says, “a kind of low-down but truer sense of where the self can develop”.

After wandering for a while, I went in the Free Library – also the territory of the homeless. I sat among them and started to enjoy the Quiet Volume.

“Put your hand on the paper, palm down, and press it into the book. Press harder. Push until your hand starts to shake a little bit.” I looked up awkwardly hoping no one noticed me. And no one did. They concentrated in reading.

“Page 196, fourth line, snow. Page 82, in the middle, hole. Page… Snow. Hole. Snow.” I literally started to shiver and my skin turned bluish pale. I looked around searching for some vitality to bring me back to this world, and they were talking and smiling. They seemed warm, too, in their hoodies and caps.

It seemed that I was so interested in the homeless people and considered them artistic hermits in the city. But then I came face to face to one. It was a total shock, when I was sitting on the terrace looking for my water kettle in my bag and a straggly old man just walked towards me and started murmuring. Startled, I said I don’t understand English and left. Well I wasn’t lying, because I didn’t understand a single word he said. But as I walked away I heard a sentence that I could catch, “I just wanna give you a compliment!” This should be a great example of the “serendipity” that I’ve long craved, but what did I do? I ran away in panic, maybe because the stereotypical fear of the homeless people. I felt regretful afterward – I should’ve chatted with him and explored lots of things that’d surprise me.

And then I had a moment of introspection. When I was reading Bloomberg’s essay, I felt delighted and agreeing. “It is ironic that old-fashioned newspapers served some of their most important social functions only because of technological limitations, which prevented them from giving their customers only what they want. … It is crucial, for individuals and societies alike, that they continue to provide readers with the experience of serendipity.” But when I pondered on my habit, I found that I actually enjoy personalized news that pleases my own taste, and wouldn’t even browse through information that I’m not interested in. I think I’m not interested, because I’ve never given myself a chance, and maybe I will fall in love with it after I take time to understand it.

So I’m not as open-minded as I thought. I should, and I will, open up more to different people and ideas, to surprise and excitement, to serendipity.