It is just two weeks ago now that I was in a food court at the Atlanta airport. I was sitting at a table facing a low opaque wall that hid the escalator from view, so that what I saw was a seemingly endless stream of people. One after another, a head would appear, and then shoulders, then torso, and then the whole person, walking quickly past the tables and on to their connecting gate. The experience was something like watching snowflakes fall, or watching raindrops slide across the window of a moving car. If I tried to keep my eyes focused on one place, the rate at which new faces would appear was overwhelming. But following one person from appearance to disappearance, and then repeating the process was enough to inspire motion sickness. So many people!
At VCU, I took abnormal psychology from a professor whose unifying theory was that our brains are not significantly (if at all) different from a Cro-Magnon – that our brains evolved to handle a reality in which we would not live long, nor would we ever meet but so many people. Modern humans, he contended, saw more people in a day than we were made to see in a lifetime. Is that enough to explain most mental disorders, as that professor would have it? I think it unlikely. But I will admit that my brain became confused, even distressed, in the face of so many – well, faces.
Because they are not just faces, right? Each person, a person with as much backstory as myself, with their own constellation of friends and family, with their own beliefs and experiences, with their own reasons for being at the Atlanta airport at that hour on that day.
It is no wonder that giving even ten minutes of considered thought to the problems of the world is too much for people – the mere existence of a few thousand people in our immediate proximity is too much for us, and there are billions of people, and so billions of stories and billions of wounds and billions of opportunities to pass by without looking too carefully, lest we be overcome with motion sickness.
The mere existence of the people coming off the escalator were overwhelming to me, and yet they were just a tiny fraction of all those held in God’s loving embrace. I was so overloaded, I could not have recognized any of them ten minutes later – God could tell you how many hairs were on each head. Not to mention what they had for breakfast, and who loved them, and what they feared most, and whether it was love or fear or something else that brought them to the airport.
“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”