Meet and Greet: Who are all these people on campus?

By STEPHANIE CARMODY

One of my favorite movie quotes is from the cinematic masterpiece Sing Street. Set in the 1990s, a coming-of-age Irish schoolboy runs into a mysterious, older girl who he’s immediately struck by. Their first run-in prompts him to write a song about her titled “The Riddle of the Model.” He asks his friend to read the lyrics after, and his friend does while looking dubious. He asks him: “What does ‘her dangerous eyes’ mean?” The schoolboy responds after a moment, “When you don’t know someone, they’re more interesting. They can be anything you want them to be. But when you know them, there’s limits to them.”

As students at a populated, private university, we run into fascinating faces from all walks of life. As a result, we all have our versions of the “girl with dangerous eyes.” Perhaps it’s the way someone dresses, or some anecdotal story someone shares in class that first sparks our attention. These momentary hints into someone else’s life, and nothing more, create the inevitable sense of intrigue. We pass so many people each day that we can’t help but wonder—who are they and what’s their story?

At home, I keep a gold etched journal for poems or sketches, but I started a new section where I jot down quick stories and appearances of people who are memorable and “dangerous” in their own ways.

The first on my list was dated as one of Ithaca’s first snow days. The December snow was new and exciting, not the sleet it is now. I was walking home after a late review session, so the time would have been around midnight. The sky was pitch black but as I got closer to my house, I saw flashes of light. Normally I would turn around, but I continued in the direction, as my house had to be at the other end. A few steps later, and I saw the flashes were coming from some figure under a lamppost, except the figure was somewhat distorted because they had a towel wrapped around their head. As I approached, she let out a yell: “You scared me!” I was taken aback, “No, you scared me!” We both laughed at the weirdness of the scenario and then I continued my walk home. It wasn’t until later that I realized the flashes were coming from her camera. It was a real camera too—one of those sleek, professional Canons with a wide-angle lens. She was a photographer who ran out to capture a first snowfall. Despite having just showered, hair dripping from the steam, she ran outside in barely even a coat and started snapping pictures at midnight.

Other entries range from frat boys who walked from the back of the bus to the front, making it their priority to thank the bus driver; a guy who picked up a dropped water bottle and ran a block to give it back to the owner; or a girl I passed on the sidewalk who absolutely rocked floral booties and a bedazzled, denim jacket (can’t tell if I wanted to be her friend or be her).

These people I write about intrigue me, but that is because I know so little about them; we’ll recognize each other on the street, maybe say hi when we pass by, but that’s about it. I’m able to romanticize and interrupt however way I want. It is a story of my own creation based on few facts. The people who prompt these daydreams are “fillers”—temporary figures who float in and out of life at unpredictable times, lasting much longer in thoughts than in reality.

I have a love-hate relationship with this “passerby phenomenon.” On one hand, we pass so many people every day who are exciting, especially on a campus this size. On the other, we are teased by possibilities, just out of reach of the tangible. Are these people destined to be “fillers” our entire lives? That is, as much as we conjecture about them, do they have any real significance?

Here’s a scary thought: we’re constrained to become friends with people only at the right opportunities and contexts and people we pass occasionally don’t fit in with those standards. Despite being interested in others, we’re limited to becoming best friends, sharing secrets and staying up all night with those we sit next to in class, meet in orientation, or live with as roommates. Stated by one of my friends, on this runner who passes by her house every once in a while during his daily routes: “He’s nice and we’ll wave but I wouldn’t say hi. I don’t see him enough to form a stable relationship.” We make an effort to get to know others when it benefits us, and the idea of a temporary relationship is often not incentive enough to get to know others. In choosing these kinds of relationships, we gain security and permanency but lose the possibilities of meeting extraordinary people.

There’s always the question of “what if?” One of my friends who had this crush on a guy in her residential building said they just smiled and opened doors for each other. It never turned out to be anything, but she said, “I loved seeing him around. He brightened up my day, I don’t know why.” You never know quite the impact you have on others. When someone says “hey” or they smile, it’s not necessarily an end of conversation. People can be genuinely interested in others but not have the opportunity or the right timing for it to be natural; they might be too shy or just not sure what to say to someone they barely know (heaven knows I relate). Yet, aren’t these excuses to not greet or take it further limiting? Why should we wait for the perfect opportunity, when life rarely holds open the doors for such occasions?

On campus each day we pass so many people, each with a fascinating story. Yet we often don’t greet; we pass in a caffeinated frenzy, rushing to our next class, eyes on the TCAT that just left, too focused on ourselves. It’s easy to find someone intriguing, conjecture about their lives in the moment, and then forget them as we continue throughout our day. Yet, every once and a while, when someone “dangerous” intersects our path—shouldn’t we greet? Who knows how many more intersections there’ll be? Just as soon as that “dangerous” person flickers into your life, they’re gone. Maybe that person you’ve passed is a complete bore or doesn’t live up to the image you created for them. Or maybe they exceed all expectations. Yet, you’ll never know until you take a risk, until you truly greet. The most dangerous thing is not knowing.

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