I want to be famous to shuffling men
It's September, somehow, and I keep dreaming about college, about dorm rooms and laundromats, cafeterias and classrooms and campuses. I dream of move in day and being the RA but also lost; I dream of trying to find my car, or an office, or a particular building entrance. I could draw a connection to my life, I suppose, to the fact that I'm deep in the weeds of so many new things, but the reality is I have these dreams every September, and have for many years now. It's something in the weather that makes me feel this precise combination of trepidatious and excited.
In real life, I was never lost on campus; I planned meticulously, printed out maps and timed my walk from dorm to class, from one class to the next, then home again, before academics opened up for the semester. I rode the bus routes and learned the schedules. I was never late by accident. In real life I was, and still am, the person other people ask for directions, rather than the other way around. I have a vibe, I guess.
I first discovered Naomi Shihab Nye's poem Famous in high school, after I read her young adult novel Habibi and decided I needed to read everything she'd ever written. For a while, when quoting it to myself, I modified the last line to "because nobody ever forgot what it could do," thinking that was somehow more inspiring. Now, though, I know how deeply the need to never forget what you can do runs. I know how easy it can be to forget, how easy to let what you can do get lost.
I am a person who will always give directions to strangers on the streetcar, even if they interrupt my book or my podcast or even (though I might be a little begrudging) a conversation with my daughter. It's easy to be lost on the bus; I am glad I seem like someone who will help you, and I want you to be helped. Even if inwardly, for a moment, what I want to do is sigh, or roll my eyes, or get defensive of my space and time and attention, all of which come at a steep premium these days.
But that's not who I want to be, and so when someone asks the way, I might take a deep breath to soothe my irritation, but by the time I speak I do my best to be helpful, and welcoming, and generous. That is who I want to be. I want to be famous as the one who smiles back. I want to be the one who helped you get home when you didn't think you knew the way.
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