The joy of catching others in a vulnerable, unaware moment

I derive very happy jolts from glimpsing someone in the middle of a moment. An unawares moment.

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Some examples: A bike courier singing as he rides through traffic; the woman in the pencil skirt who does a little excited skip to herself as she walks down the street; the power walker at the beach who has to tap the end of the promenade three times before turning around and heading back.

Then there are the more subtle moments. The flickers in the eyes. Glimpsing a thought flicker across a stranger’s face, like a floater across your eye. Apparently there’s a word for this:

Fata organa n. a flash of real emotion glimpsed in someone sitting across the room…

…idly locked in the middle of some group conversation, their eyes glinting with vulnerability or quiet anticipation or cosmic boredom.

I experienced this the other day. I was staring at a table of old ladies opposite me in a café. One of them had tuned out from the chatter. You could tell. And then a mischievous look came over her face and she looked like she was 15, not 70 or so. And I saw her very clearly as a girl. And I saw that she hadn’t changed since then. But perhaps had made compromises along the way. She saw me staring, half smiled and quickly turned back to the chitter.

We experience fata organa when we think we’ve found love. I saw “the flash” in the face of one of my exes one night. I knew I loved him in that instant. I was a waitress and I looked up and saw a benevolent kindness in his eyes as he listened to a customer at a table (he was the chef and owner of the restaurant I was working in). And in that look I saw everything I needed to know. It was like he’d been turned inside out, all his rawness on display.

Film makers use fata organa to switch pace in a plot. The camera zooms in on a face. Everything goes still and quiet and we focus on the expression. We grasp it and its significance. The story moves on.

What a privilege to get those glimpses. Seeing others’ vulnerabilities is real. It’s the level at which we’d like to hover all the time. But instead we have to nourish ourselves on glimpses.

We have to hold the camera still, and go quiet, to capture and appreciate them, though. I often think we have to hold our hearts still, too. Perhaps that’s why we only get occasional glimpses – so that we’re challenged to hold our cameras and hearts still. And in so doing, experience our own vulnerability as well.

Would you agree? Sometimes I DO wonder if I make enough sense on this blog…

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