Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Physical Space Between

I was in Wal-Mart the other day and something interesting happened. I was standing in line to check out, and amid the busy lineups, children crying and bright lights, I noticed something.

A man was walking from the opposite end of the checkout toward me. I didn't think anything of it; I didn't think he was walking toward me. I saw that he was walking toward the woman in line behind me. Before he walked up to her, before he said anything to her, I could tell that he knew the woman behind me. I think that's why I didn't think he was walking toward me - because he walked in a way that signified closeness; he walked in the way you would walk toward someone you knew.

How do I describe this? It was really cool, like the space between them was connecting them. His body language relaxed as soon as he met the woman's eyes. He was communicating with her before he even spoke to her.

That got me thinking. I wondered at how different our body language is toward people we know versus complete strangers. Even more specifically, how different our body language is toward people we know quite well (co-workers, acquaintances) and people we know on a more intimate level (family and close friends). The gap of physical space between two people who know each other well seems calmer, smaller, softer, sweeter, as it closes in. The gap between people who don't know each other, well, it is more solid and less noticeable because we expect gaps of space between us and those we don't know.

I understand the concept of body language. Of course, we can read so much more about someone by looking at what their body is saying than by hearing them speak words. In this case, the body language went a step further and stretched out into the space between two people, as though that space was alive with something. A space - nothing - full of something.

I'm going to the mall today, and now I can't wait to observe more people and the spaces between.

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