COLUMN: Looking for the Unexpected
Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 23:10
I was running around the Reservoir when something strange happened.
I was on the dirt pathway near the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum when I saw a flash of silver and green—the T had passed just behind the museum.
I almost stopped my run in misunderstanding.
I had, if I think about it now, always understood in a geographic sense that the T travelled by this part of the Reservoir, but I had never actually seen or heard the T pass in that particular spot. There was something about this unexpected sight that was such a strange disruption to my daily run (read: run that I may or may not take every other day at best.)
In a way, I was almost mad at myself for not having seen this very obvious aspect of my surroundings before.
Of course, it is not entirely my fault. Perhaps the T had never before been passing at the exact moment that I passed that specific spot on my run, in which case I would not even be able to see the rails that would otherwise denote the T’s path.
There is something consistently strange about this in life—the way that two essentially unremarkable events will or will not occur at precisely the same time. My life would have gone on just as well without ever having definitively realized that the T ran just behind the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum. But if I had not noticed this unexpected sight, I may never have taken a closer look at the architecture of the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum, which, though I may never enter it, looks quite a lot like the architecture of Trinity Church and deserves a second look.
If my mind had not been awakened to the architectural similarities between Trinity Church and the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum, however, I would never have looked to educate myself and find out that Arthur H. Vinal, the designer of the High Service Building that would ultimately become the Waterworks Museum, had indeed been inspired by the architect of Trinity Church, Henry Hobson Richardson, for whom the architectural term Richardson Romanesque is named.
Could I have lived without this knowledge? Yes.
Is there something about me that loves knowing this essentially irrelevant fact? Absolutely.
It seems that one irrelevant collision between myself and the unexpected sight of a T led me to a collision with an interesting fact that I would otherwise not have found.
And I suppose that this is a fitting place for me to admit another way in which I try to learn from random encounters—I like peering over other people’s shoulders to look at what they are reading. It’s only creepy if they catch you. (At least that is what I tell myself when I awkwardly try to avoid eye contact with the latest victim of my nosiness.)
I feel, however, that my desire to look at what other people are reading is not only healthy and justifiable, but also a great compliment—what better way to show you that I care about you than to express an interest in what you are reading? (Perhaps by backing off and minding my own business, I know. But let’s ignore that.)
There are things to be learned from friends—books that they have left on the table from the random Boston bookstore that they visited that one day. Pick it up, leaf through the pages, and see what you can learn before they return to the room and find you standing a bit too close to their desk.
There are things to be learned from strangers—newspaper articles that they are reading on a bus or train as they travel to work. Catch the lede as they rustle the paper, and, if it interests you, go buy your own copy and stop making the poor guy feel uncomfortable.
And there is, apparently, something to be learned while running around the Reservoir.
So long as you’re willing to be surprised.