The other day I was hiking in the Greenbelt here in Austin Texas, a system of trails that follows a seasonal stream, and I stumbled onto the scattered pages of what I thought was someone’s journal. The pages were spread over about fifty feet of the dry creek bed, a recent rain having weighed them down so the wind hadn’t taken them very far, and I guess I did what anyone else would do when given the chance to read the secret thoughts of a stranger: I started reading. It turned out to be a community notebook, placed in a cave a few weeks ago for whoever stumbled on it to write in. Then I did what any responsible citizen would do and picked up the litter so I could throw it away. Or I did it because I wanted to write about it . . . .
On my mind was something I had just read in A Tale of Two Cities. I think it does a good enough job explaining why this notebook of random thoughts was so great to have found.
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. . . . In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?
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I am ever interested in the secret lives of other people and ever impressed at how impossible it is to know them. As I passed people on the trail and had quick conversations about dogs and the weather, I wondered what they would write on their page and what unknown stories lay hidden further beneath.
(PS, if by any small chance one of the authors of this journal finds this post, or anyone else who knows, let me know where the “cave” is and I’ll return the book with a new one that is more permanent!)