Humanity Oozes

It used to sadden me how impersonal everyone is in public.  When we go out we put on this solemn facade, wear sunglasses, and pop in our headphones.  I suppose the alternative is ridiculous, but it can be quite lonely spending this much time commuting amongst so many people yet without another soul in sight.

But, as I ride the subway to work everyday, I’ve gotten better at seeing, and I have come to this firm opinion: if you pay attention, you’ll see humanity oozing out everywhere.  Deception experts call it “leakage.”  I like the idea of our emotional, psychological, humorous, cruel, and kind personalities oozing mucous-like through the cracks in our cool exteriors.  After all, indefinable humanity is metaphorically viscous isn’t it?  Its more like sweat and blood and mud than water or rock.  Undoubtedly poets everywhere agree.

The other day on the subway I was attacked by this humanity and it made me quite happy.  It started with a woman listening to her ipod as she stood next to me as we waited on the platform.  I noticed that she kept subtly starting to dance to her music, and then stopping herself, as if to say “oh yeah, I’m in public.”  I was enjoying it, and then I realized that I was doing the same thing as I listened to JT.  A palpable sense of commonality rushed over me as I experienced a deep feeling of connection to this stranger.  I sensed that we were dancing to the same music, even if it was a different tune.  Sound is incidental.  It’s what the sound evokes that matters.

We got on the train.  I sat facing a man standing up, reading a book, with an untied bow tie hanging from his neck.  As we trundled away, he unexpectedly rocked forward with a vigorously subdued belly laugh.  It only lasted a moment before he stood back up and smoothed his features.

As the train left the downtown area and emerged into the daylight, I saw a storm was coming from the west and chasing us east, engulfing the Atlanta skyline behind us.  As rain drops caught up to our subway car, I was in the middle of listening to “Lily’s Eyes” from the Secret Garden and contemplating how incredibly human we all are–totally messed up, totally beautiful, and totally inept at hiding it.

So pay attention!  See the humanity oozing!  If you look closely (I look from underneath sunglasses to avoid detection), strangers betray that they are not the unfamiliar automatons they seem.  Please take part in my joy!

(Lately I have realized I don’t understand macroeconomics as well as I should and I have gone on a learning binge.  More on that later.  Also, Alicia is in Rwanda now.  She is doing well.)

About Jer Clifton

Look up, friend. The world is too beautiful for my eyes alone. View all posts by Jer Clifton

9 responses to “Humanity Oozes

  • David

    Enjoying your reflections. Keep writing.

  • Linda Clifton McCormick


    Liked the reflection alot. I see this as what some of my friends call “awareness” and being fully taken in by what you are involved with in the moment, and still seeing humanity “oozing” as you call it. I will take these words to heart, and share in your joy, as I step away from time to time from the simplicity and beauty of life here on this lake and within a moments drive renew my dislike for crowds and noise. Yes, I can still see it ooze there and I am forced to look for it more, to discover the smiles, and hopefully create a few, the common threads of life as we know it in the fast lane. I wonder how you couple this with your generation and the addiction to social media and often being connected via technology to someone while you are in the presence of another….can you be fully there? Is it healthy? How does this oozing happen in the stillnes of nature which it seems to disengage from with the noise of our tech world? Write on this sometime, as it seems to be epidemic and here to stay. So, may we continue to ooze…..and see the ooze….

    How did you celebrate your birthday? And I agree with Shannon, more on Rwanda and Alicia in particular!


  • Nathan C. Clifton

    I enjoy watching the ooze of humanity in other cultures because the seepage appears different but belays a similar condition. It really reduces me a standstill when I try and contemplate the sum total of separate life experiences that a stranger and I have as we pass on the street. The potential interactions are endless but then disappear as we quickly make our way through an ocean of incredibly complex individuals who are all trying to get away from where they currently are and who they are currently with.

    May i secrete a little humanity on you by wishing a happy birthday. may your forehead grow like the mighty oak.

    • JDW Clifton

      Absolutely. I’ve had the same overwhelming experience as I walk by someone and think “holy crap that person’s life is just as full as my own.” This is one of those truths that are “duh, of course,” but we nonetheless do and should remember them in ways that it is real to us. I think spirituality and religion done right is a series of re-remembering. For example, it hits me on a regular basis that God loves me.

  • Shannon

    This is what I love about airspace. Airspace = everything that exists after you cross the security checkpoint at an airport. Because generally I have nothing to do and nothing to worry about except what people around me are doing. Of course, I think everyone’s humanity is somewhat stilted in airspace, but it’s the one place I find easiest to take time to observe.

    You should blog about what Alicia’s doing. For me. Or she should start a Summer in Africa blog. For reals.

  • rocleeoc

    Hey Jer,

    I’m not sure I like the phrase “Humanity Oozes” but I like the concept. I’ve been trying to be more intentional about reaching out to friends I already know and being open to meeting the people around me. It’s been challenging but exciting and I’m already seeing how much just saying hi makes a difference.

    And Happy Birthday!


  • Cary

    Nice reflection.
    The longing for community infects us all, no matter how well we train ourselves.

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