Lost in the crowd


In Tokyo’s Shinjuku station, multiple train lines and subways intersect, carrying over 3.5 million people every day. Waves of people shoulder past, hurrying, blurring by, always faceless. Once while transferring to another line, I met someone I knew. Just once, while moving through a crowd of millions, I saw a face I knew, one that knew me. Another time, a fellow foreigner stopped me to ask for directions. His was the only face I remember from that day.

One part of Shinjuku Station (courtesy of Wikipedia)

I move through life  in a crowd of moments that are faceless, anonymous, and almost indistinguishable from one another. When I least expect it, one of them stops and looks me in the face, forever changing who I am. Sometimes it is a welcome and familiar face that helps me find my way or whispers words of encouragement; other times it wears the face of sorrow, speaking words I fear to hear. I memorize the contours of that face, take whatever is given, while all around the crowd never stops moving, in its urgent, restless rush. The moment that shatters my life is just another faceless person in the crowd to you, utterly forgotten, yet terribly unforgotten by me. And the moments that changed your life? To me, merely moments blurred into days, unmarked and unknown. We each carry our own calendar of joy and pain, of remembered days and moments, but most of the days are missing, torn off to mark the passing time.


We live our lives in moments, sought out by love, hate, hope, sorrow, comfort, happiness, or death. When you least expect it, a hand reaches out to grab your arm, or a voice speaks your name. You are pressed in on every side, where else can you go? You must stop, receive the word, receive the gift, you must face the moment; and you will remember that face for the rest of your life. Then you are swallowed up once more into that crowd, moving, ever moving, carrying your joy or sorrow home.

32 thoughts on “Lost in the crowd

  1. It is always a wonder when an individual is noticed within the masses–connection, communication. Your post made me think of Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro,” an image that has always intrigued me:

    The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
    Petals on a wet, black bough.

  2. I am struck by the idea of a moment stopping and looking you in the face just so yo will remember it.

    I lived in Japan after high school, and I remember one of my first impressions after I landed at Narita and left the airport was that Japan was nothing but a sea of people. Of course, I learned it was much more than that, nevertheless that impression has stuck with me. And as odd as it seems to compare the moments of your life to a sea of people, I totally get it.

    • I think it’s because out of all the moments of our lives, there so few moments that are truly memorable and still vivid in our minds. Because you have been in those huge crowds, maybe you can visualize it the way I experienced it.

  3. And in spite of the rarity of these moments of recognition or encounter in the sea of faces, I find myself always expecting to make those connections. On the subway in New York, in a crowded theater somewhere, in the train station in D.C., I look for people I know. Surely I DO know people in New York, and people in D.C., and people who go to the theater. Where are they? Hello! I KNEW I’d run into you!

  4. This is a nice reminder for me. I am forever walking with my eyes turned down, just trying to mash through the crowds. If I see someone I know, it is because they see me first. Something in my brain is unable to sort through that jumble of information quickly, so I pretend the information does not exist. I am certain I appear the misanthrope, but this could not be further from the truth.

  5. We seem to be on the same track today or perhaps parallel tracks. Only you write about it so beautifully, and because of this, your moments have reached out and grabbed each of us (I mean that as a huge compliment, not that you have groping moments :-)). Sorry could not resist a teeny bit of sarcasm. Hopefully, you know I love reading about your life, and I love the way you write about it.

  6. Yours is a face in the crowd, a hand on the shoulder that I welcome, that I am grateful crossed my path to introduce me to your warmth, wisdom, astonishing powers of observation and the poetry you have for showing the rest of us what you’ve seen. You are *not* anonymous, but a sought-for blessing.

  7. I am echoing Kathryn’s words as I sit here. And just now it occurred to me that as I drive down the road, in addition to counting everything I see, I am looking for familiar faces in cars that come hurtling down the road toward me no matter where I am at.

  8. hello, yearstricken,

    i love this. “We each carry our own calendar of joy and pain, of remembered days and moments, but most of the days are missing, torn off to mark the passing time.”

    happy weekend to you and your loved ones. 🙂

    • That’s an image that I have carried in my head for a long time — tearing off the days from those 365-day calendars and only leaving the ones on that were memorable. If I had one of those calendars for every year I lived, there really wouldn’t be that many days on each calendar.

      Enjoy your weekend as well.

  9. I’ve been thinking about things like this lately, too. In terms of memory, isn’t it so strange how we can’t recall EXACTLY what happens at a given time? For example, I can’t recall in exact detail the occurrences of the last sixty seconds. It’s so peculiar to think about: all the forgotten memories, the things that mean so much to us and the things we are excited about.

    Time spent with people we loved and people that we’ve lost. Moments of our lives condemned to the vast chasms of subconscious memory.

    It’s so bizarre! It makes me wish I had some sort of mental (permanent) notebook or rather, a scribe who documented every detail.

    I suppose that’s why people write books and that’s why people blog – to document their thoughts and feelings before they are forgotten. Like trying to remember a dream.

    I’m now no longer sure that this is relevant; still valid, though.

    • I like what you wrote here, olletron. I feel the same way: there are so many things I wish I could remember, but I can’t. Though probably some of the forgotten memories are best forgotten. I guess our blogs are one way of remembering.

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