Last Saturday evening, I was in a Winchester pub with two friends - the St James Tavern on Romsey Road it was - and at one point I was at the bar ordering another round of post-shopping, pre-dinner drinks. There was a man there, and a conversation developed between us. He was older than me (72 it emerged) and he was nice, but he was also a widower. He had lost his wife from illness just a month before. Without thinking, I immediately expressed the utmost sympathy in my posture and voice, and it must have obvious in my face as well. I even touched him very lightly and briefly on his arm. For the death of a life partner must always command respect and concern. I could not help my gesture.
He was not full of sorrow, or self-pity, as might easily have been the case. He had clearly not let his standards slip. He had remained a pleasant older man. He had dignity. I found myself hoping that he would, after a while, find someone to fill the gap torn in his life. We did not speak longer than ten minutes. I did mention - to claim I suppose some basis for 'understanding' what great loss meant - that both my parents had died in 2009 in rapid succession. But I was quick to add that this wasn't the same as the death of his wife. And it really wasn't. Her death had come unnaturally early. Parents are not chosen, however dearly loved. The emotional investment in someone you find for yourself, and commit your life to, is of a quite different order.
The evening's birthday festivities at a nearby restaurant - the Tanoshii Fusion - pushed the encounter from my mind for a while, but I returned to it later, and pondered on what might be learned. Let's see:
# A man I'd never met before had noticed me. He thought I was a 'young woman' - I know this because he said so. I corrected him on this mistaken impression, but it made no difference. He also thought me worth talking to: someone likely to know what he was speaking about.
# Once again it was an older man at a bar, the only kind I seem to catch the eye of! That might mean that I have a particular appeal for older men with some living behind them, some experience. Perhaps I seemed 'safe'. I didn't for a moment feel that this man was physically attracted to me, only that he felt comfortable enough about me to disclose some of his life. Which might mean that I looked empathetic, and a good listener. People used to think this about me in my past life, at least when I was in my twenties and thirties.
# I didn't mind being thought a nice woman and a willing listener. It seemed to me rather a pleasant thing to be regarded in that way. It was a quiet, useful social role that I could manage. My Dad used to say that I'd make a very good hospital visitor - the sort of person who would speak to patients in hospital and cheer them up; complete strangers who needed some human concern and some human conversation.
# But supposing that I lived in Winchester and encountered this man, or someone very like him, again? And a friendship came into being, bit by bit? And at some stage he began to explore the possibility of something closer? After all, where empathy leads, intimacy can follow. Would I want that? It would not be part of my plans, not at all.
# What if it were a woman, and not a man, who opened up to me and drew me in? Surely this version of 'getting together' would begin differently and develop differently? Less sentiment, more practicality, more directness perhaps, once a bond was established? Maybe. Maybe not. The truth is, I don't know.
# None of the many much younger men in the Tavern looked at me. Perhaps I wasn't interesting to them. And yet, I was the person that a man on the next table approached. It was a foursome, two men, two women, all thirtyish, and it was the birthday of one of the women. Could I take a photo of them all? Of course I could. All was laughter and goodwill. The man was from Glasgow, but lived in Winchester, as did the birthday woman and the other man. The second woman was from Stevenage, north of London, and visiting. I said that one of the friends on our table, and myself, had also driven a fair distance to be here, and that that we were celebrating a birthday too. And 'our' birthday girl had a Stevenage connection - how was that? More amazed laughter and goodwill. Here they are, although Glasgow man (on the left) has been caught in between smiles!
Interesting, when you study the shot, to see what look the girls have thought good for themselves, for a birthday meal in a city tavern with two guys.
Next it was our turn: pictures of ourselves taken by the Stevenage girl on the right, with my own camera. It was all so spontaneous and natural. Nobody noticed we were trans. It didn't seem to occur to anyone, ourselves included. Just some ordinary girls, all ready for a night out.
What threads will hang on that evening? What lesson was learned that I haven't yet seen, but will turn out to be the most important one of all?
How do the accidental things in life fit into any deliberate scheme for living?