I am not sure why the term “fellow traveler” came to mind when I was writing this post. I think, in my head, it had a much different emotional undertone than its actual historical context suggests. Despite its name, this will not be a post about the legacy of communism in the late 1940s, nor about the Russian intellectual movement following the revolution of 1917 (sorry, Helen).
Rather, this blog post is about a particular kind of emotional connection that I have begun to notice as having a pattern. This blog post is about the moment when you connect with someone you recognize as one of your “tribe.” Not just when someone recognizes the obscure T-shirt you’re wearing, or when your TV-show ringtone turns someone’s head–but when you exchange a few words with someone and find that, somehow, you understand them, and they understand you.
An example of this is an interaction I had at work the other day (side note: “The Other Day” is another of my favorite expressions, a verbal [citation challenge] which nods to humans’ nonlinear, irregular perception of the passage of time–but I’ll write another post about that later). AS I WAS SAYING:
At the place I work, we are required to wear aprons (huge denim aprons which either look awful or adorable depending on whether or not you ask my girlfriend) and nametags. My name tag says my name, which is one of the most common names in the Western world (Michel, Miguel, Micky, Michael, Michelle, Mike, Mikael, Michal, Michele, etc.). I am ringing out a woman’s purchases when a man comes up, looks at my name tag, and addresses me.
“It means God-Like,” he says, “You know. The name Michael.”
I know what he means immediately. The conventional etymology of the name Michael is, originally, a question, posed by an angel to a devil: “Who is like God?” What the man is doing is interpreting the name without a question mark–a little conceit which I am sure many Michels have indulged over the years–changing the meaning from “Who is like God?” to: “[subject] who is like God.”
I smile, and I reply “Yes. Quis ut deus, in the Latin, meaning “who is like God?” It’s in the Bible.”
He points at me, and smiles back, and in that moment we understand a great many things about each other, all at once, with no words spoken. And then he leaves.
I see this happen a great deal with elderly women. They pass each other by, pause, and smile at one another. What are they thinking? I have no idea. I am not an old woman, and it’s highly unlikely that I will ever be one. I also see it with nerds. And I’m not just talking people who watched Game Of Thrones. It’s the moment that happens when you ask someone “Who’s your favorite character?” and they reply with the correct answer: “Arya Stark.” You smile at one another. Perhaps you exchange words but it’s not the words that are important–its the moment when you understand that here is a person whose values align with yours. Here is a validation of your beliefs, in front of you, in the flesh.
It’s akin to the feeling when you see a familiar face in a crowd of strangers, or find a friendly gesture amid hostility (or even amid indifference). The feeling when you make a connection that you could not have anticipated, but which touches some deep chord, and shakes you to the core.
What is it that makes this moment so powerful? It doesn’t just apply to interpersonal connections. I have had moments like this with a song. Or a physical object. Or an animal. A moment of discovery. A small-scale miracle. We discover outside, in the world, something which we had previously assumed existed only in our heart–a piece of soul–and we say, I know you. I have met you before. (TITLE DROP) We are fellow travelers, you and I. The same feeling is present, according to archetypal psychology, in an Anima-figure dream–a dream wherein we meet a mysterious individual (usually a young woman but not necessarily) with whom we connect, and converse, and are haunted after waking by the idea that we know their face…from somewhere.
And like everything strange, everything mystical, everything in the world that I can’t quite explain, I find myself asking the same question:
What does it mean?
That’s all for now, readers.