Be on the subway. Or in an elevator. Or looking out the window of a coffee shop you’ve been squatting longer than you probably should have. Be somewhere that you take for granted, somewhere you have seen enough to wear the magic out of — a place where even the most beautiful surroundings would have been rendered bland by your repeated viewing. Be so wrapped up in the comings and goings of a regular day that you stop noticing anything around you. Allow the dulled sounds and blurred people on your peripheral vision to become scarcely-noticed backdrops for the time you spend lost in your own head.
Notice them. Be snapped out of your routine the way one awakes from a nightmare — suddenly so happy to be involved in normal, everyday things. Be overwhelmingly grateful that you were on this subway car, in this elevator, in this coffee shop. Think of all the other things you could have been doing, and the incredible chance that you happened to be in this one place at this one time by the grace of your daily routine. Suddenly see the route you choose to take every day, the timing of everything, as incredibly serendipitous. See meaning in things where before there was only understated repitition.
Appreciate how beautiful they are — how much of them seems designed by your own hand, your own preferences. The way they dress, the way they style their hair, the slightly shy way they stand. It’s all perfect, all communicating that they have come exclusively for you. They didn’t, of course, but there is something undeniably electric in the air now that they’ve walked in. Do they know they have this effect on people? And is this something that happenss often, or is their charm a specific brand that only you happen to fully appreciate, a radio station that you alone are tuned into? Their beauty, the way they let people pass in front of them, the way they nod and smile, the way the small dimples form in their cheeks when their eyes make happy little half-moons — it all fits.
And suddenly, you can’t help your imagination from running wild with the new bit of information that has suddenly been thrust into your lexicon: this person exists. They move in the same world as you, in the same neighborhood, even, and they are standing right in front of you. Think of all the things that could happen between the two of you, the story that you could create by picking up the pen at this very instant. You imagine what they would look like laughing, telling a secret, running to catch a taxi at the end of a perfect first date. There is a whole life between the two of you that you can strangely sense exists in another version of this subway car, or this elevator.
Try to force yourself to say something. Imagine an opening line, a way to break the ice, an excuse for talking to them. Prepare yourself for rejection the way a village might steel itself against an incoming rainstorm. Relay all of the possibilities in your mind, and remind yourself how small the word “hello” is, and how much it can count for. Try not to be intimidated by the scenario, by how beautiful they look, by how much you could create with a simple word or two. Decide that you’re going to do it, that you’re going to take the first step towards everything that could become a reality with them.
And then they’re gone. They step off the subway, out the door, into the crowd. There is no more chance of finding them than there would be a penny at the bottom of the ocean — they’ve been swallowed up by the day. Feel a sting of disappointment, of regret, of frustration in your continual inability to start something when even the smallest amount of risk is involved. Feel that they are going to live an entire life that you will never be a part of, smile a million smiles that you will not cause, know joys and pains that you will never get to share in. Realize that, if only for a minute, you were in love. You were in love with everything that might have been, and with the world’s ability to change everything by opening a subway door. But remind yourself that they were just a stranger, and that it probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway.