Fri, 07 Jan 2011 04:19:03 +0000

Today I watched a man make a million dollars.

Nothing changed, really. Except now he has more money.

Anyway, it happened in the park. He was on a bench, talking on the phone: “So, my salary would be just under $1.1 mil?”

Answer must’ve been “yes,” because he hung up and acted a bit crazy — pacing back and forth, hyperventilating even. I’m sure it’s tough to get your mind around seven figures — but, really, can it be that tough?

Anyway, I stuck around for, uh, moral support. And also because I wanted to know what would happen to a newly-made millionaire. Maybe, I thought, there’d be a ray of sunshine, carpeting the way for an angel to float down and deliver the first $10,000 in a gift basket full of cured meats.

But there wasn’t.

In movies, the climactic parts have dynamic camera angles and inspiring music. In reality, our lives change like the leaves on the ground near Fifth Avenue; no one really notices when a stiletto heel cuts through the membrane — except the leaf itself. For us, leaves, these are significant moments. But often it feels like we're the only ones insane enough to believe they matter.

So maybe that’s why our generation grew up with elementary school teachers telling us that we’re special: Because that makes our lives significant. But we were told the opposite in science class: Everyone is just a speck in the world, which means we’re not so special. Then, to screw with us even more, we were convinced — perhaps by movies — that there are things that are definitely special in this world, like love. So that meant when we had our heart broken for the first time, it was significant — unless, of course, we are just specks in the world.

It’s confusing.

That means there are moments when we’re self-absorbed — and those come quite often. But there are also moments when our lives are “specks,” our triumphs are “nothing,” and our tragedies are “silly” — and, for me, those are the toughest.

It’s how I felt when I watched that man pace back and forth, as the rest of the world could care less. It’s how I’ve felt every time there’s been a triumph or tragedy, and no one knows or cares except for me, which makes me care a bit less — which makes me feel a bit less.

But after pacing for a few minutes, the millionaire sat next to me on the bench, and he dialed a number on his phone.

“Hi,” he said. “Mom?”

He burst out into tears. Right then, we all seemed to matter again.