Eavesdropping on a Life

One of my weekend pastimes involves sitting at my desk and—while doing work—looking out my apartment window in the direction of the house next door, where a couple of ambiguous ethnicity and their child of ambiguous gender reside.

I don’t peer in their windows or anything, aside from when I can see activity near the edge of the dining table, or light streaming from the television at night. Most of the time, if my gaze tends toward their house, it’s because they’re ambling through the front yard or standing idly on the porch. Some might call this behavior creepy; others might call it mere observation. My understanding of it is somewhere in between: I’m not weird about my “people watching” by any means, but I certainly think about my neighbors a lot—particularly if I’m at my desk for an extended period of time.

And how could I not? I live in an apartment building; I don’t regularly get to feel the rhythm and rest of a house. I don’t often chance to enjoy a home’s stately presence, the tempo of its doors or the imagined sounds of its aging. Seeing one or both of the parents drive off to work every morning, watching their child gambol across the lawn… these things are a source of comfort.

I remember one rainy evening, probably within the first few months of my being in Boston, I came home after a rough day and looked out the window. The father was holding his child on the covered porch and they were looking out at the rain together. And I started to sob. There I was, watching this perfect moment that the toddler would never remember and that the father would soon forget. In the process, I was claiming this memory as my own, adopting it as part of my life’s quotidian heritage. And in effect, I was also taking responsibility; I was choosing to remember this moment for them, since it was likely that no one else would.

If I introduce myself to them someday, I probably won’t share this memory with them. It’s mine now, and means something different to me than it does to them. Still, it seems an important thing, this cataloguing of other people’s moments—I think the art of paying attention requires us to take in such scenes as though they were our own… and to know, simultaneously, that they are not really ours.


Photo Credit: dgblitwin / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


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