I have “It’s Not You It’s Me” running through my head, demanding a bounce in my step as I walk between Meyer and Green Libraries. The sky is overcast and the ground is wet. I’m a worn out because I didn’t sleep well at all, the day keeps dragging on, and the Post Doc I work for asked me to carry around a laptop and ask random people to take a survey for us. It’s like middle school fundraising—awkward for the person asking, awkward for the person rejecting, and uninspiring for both because neither is directly benefiting from the interaction as a whole. I’ve never been good at asking for favors.
Walking near a construction zone, a beautiful Korean girl chases after me on the sidewalk.
“Wait, wait, wait! Are you a student here?” She is wearing a scarf—like me—and is shouldering a poster case. She is struggling to put her coffee cup in the fold of her other arm’s elbow so that she can use her phone.
I figure she is asking for directions and tell her that I go here.
“Great! I am running a survey, do you have a few minutes to talk with me?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Yes, of course I will.” I’m still cradling the orange laptop that I am supposed to be pushing on to all the white undergrads I come across so they can take a social psychology survey for my lab. I am on the clock. I don’t give a fuck, I am going to talk to this stranger instead.
She introduces herself, a name I don’t remember, and asks me mine. Thumbs it into her iPhone and flashes me the biggest, most sincere smile.
“First question, what do you think about eternal love?”
I decided that work can wait. This is a worthwhile conversation to have with a stranger. It means something to both of us, and something I want to talk about it even just to figure things out for myself.
I try explaining my ideas about eternity. My very loose theory on how love-through-time doesn’t have to do with linear chronology. I don’t know if I do a good job trying to tell her what I mean, but she nods so politely nonetheless. I can hardly understand everything I am saying in English, and English is her second or third language. All the words are suspended in a state of almost-accurate translation, but all the phrases are still a little off. I’m not good at using the right words to signify things as they are.
“Second question, do you think human love is different than animal love?”
I try to speak simply. The fact that we are able to ask that question is evidence that human love is distinct. Unlike animals, we can question our nature, marvel at the openness surrounding us, and make deliberate decisions about how we show our love. Not only is that different; it is so beautiful.
“Third question, do you believe in God.”
She is part of a Christian organization on campus, she tells me, and that is why she is giving this survey. We talk a bit about God and the bible. I try to explain my ideas delicately as to not shake up the conversation too much. I end up telling her I identify as agnostic, and we continue the discussion just as before. She keeps referencing the bible, but in a very welcoming, liberal way. It’s funny because her accent is quite thick, and I can’t tell when she is talking if she is saying “world” or “word” when she talks about “God’s [ ]” from the bible. I decide to think she said “word,” but I am reasonably sure that isn’t what she meant. I am not sure anything I am hearing is really what she meant to say, but we are both enjoying the conversation nonetheless. She says that what I have said is really resonating with her. I return the compliment.
“Fourth question, do you believe in the spirit?”
I think about it for a second or two and tell her that I’m sorry, but I don’t understand the question. So we talk about it some, both trying to figure out what that means. She keeps bringing up the bible, I keep trying to link back her definition of the spirit to my idea of eternity. We somehow end up talking about animals a little more. Then we end up talking about ourselves a little more. She tells me about Korea; I tell her about Montana. She tells me about how she wants to go into animation because the first animated film she ever saw wasn’t in her mother tongue, and she had no idea what was being said, but she was able to pick up the meaning of the story by the final scene. She wants to be able to communicate with people that way—through drawing, through art, through whatever language she can. Even if she can’t say everything she wants, she still wants to communicate.
I look into her almond eyes and return her smile as we feel the conversation ending soon, becoming complete, seeming perfect.
I am still on the clock, but I forgot about time.
She thanks me for taking her survey—wait, that’s what this was? I give her a hug and say goodbye. We walk in different directions. We probably will never see each other again.
I look down at the orange laptop in my arms. On that little device, I am supposed to be administrating a survey of my own. Hoping I won’t get in trouble for not doing my job for the last half hour, I scurry off to find someone willing to take the survey.
I guess we all have questions to ask.