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Those “quiet tribe” connections that most of us have

I don’t know the label for it, if there is one – so I’m calling it “quiet tribe” – which I define as the collective of you and those people you pass in public spaces or learn the littlest thing about and then recognize that you and this other, these strangers, have a fixed tie or kinship.

A bad example of this – but an example nonetheless – is seeing a bare-chested guy on the street whose upper torso is painted to look like the shirt of a Kings basketball player. You, being an extreme fan of something also, do wild and crazy things to your body such that you absolutely understand and fully connect with the crazy-seeming bare-chested guy. You KNOW a big chunk of his life experience. You feel there is a gherkin-sized piece of your two brains that are identical. There’s instant and complete empathy for this “other.” Your connection is deep; it’s tribal and indelible.

What I am talking about here is sort of like that feeling there is a sexual connection between you and someone you pass on the street or meet briefly. Only with silent tribes, the zooming on people that occurs is nonsexual [or, so I suppose, knowing intimately only MY tribes] and involves a friendly/weird sameness that you share with this other person.

In the recent movie Francis Ha, Francis had a keen sense of sameness with her friend Sophie that the two of them acknowledge. “Quiet tribe” recognition is in that realm, only it’s not in the sense of being a distinct couple. It’s not a “you and me against the world” kind of thing. It’s an “Aha!” recognition thing. It makes you want to say, emphatically, to an otherwise complete stranger, “I know you!”

Here a little story from my life that I hope provides a good example of what I’m talking about.

When I was four or five, I saw someone snap his fingers and immediately it set my heart on the task of learning the skill. My father tried valiantly to teach me. I was right handed he knew from seeing me markup coloring books, so he formed that hand in position to “perform” a snap. But, for an unknowable reason and to my intense disappointment, I could not do the trick to perform the snap sound. And my father, at great effort, could not help make it happen.

Months later, playing around, I discovered that I could snap my fingers on my left hand. I was gleeful. I was cool! I was a hipster! I snap snap snapped to the complete annoyance of my family and friends. Eventually, I could do the trick with my right hand, too – and just as competently as the left. Still, set in me, was an instinct that when I wanted to make a snap noise, my non-dominant left hand would jump up and do the trick.

Today, a long-time adult, I know that, weirdly, I cannot distinguish right from left without considerable thought. I’ve learned that the malady is called left-right confusion which involves some little bit of my brain not functioning properly. Many people have this malady, perhaps as many as 20% of adults. My tell – or method of most quickly distinguishing left from right – is to snap my fingers. When my brain sends instruction to hear a fingers snap, it is my left hand that always swiftly responds. Since I know it is my LEFT hand that responds, I immediately am capacitated to distinguish left from right.

Having this weirdness about me, I am attentive to notice the “tells” that others have to separate left from right.

A math teacher, Mrs. Barnes, that I had in seventh grade, had occasion to say “left” and “right” when she was talking about one side or the other of the equal sign in an equation, or when she would instruct students to go up to one side or the other of the blackboard to solve a difficult homework problem. One day, I saw that before she said “left” or “right” she grabbed her thumbs with the other four fingers on her hands. Her tell!

I talked to Mrs. Barnes after school that day and we had a delightful conversation about our weirdness and our tells. Mrs. Barnes told me that somehow her two thumbs felt different to her and that worked as a near-instant means to separate the sea between left and right. I loved that; a Moses allusion. The two of us bonded. I KNOW that woman, dammit. I KNOW her.

Another quiet tribe I’m in is the Tall Tribe. I’m six-foot three. It’s a height that is rare enough such that when I pass another guy [or gal, very rarely] that is my height I take notice and so, too, might the other person of me. There’s often a nod or smile that passes between me and my new same-height friend. My fellow Tall Tribe members and I are not giraffes, but very tall humans and that fact colors our life experiences and puts me in connection with rare, select others. Others of my tribe.

Likely, reader, you, too, are enmeshed in a number of quiet tribes. The streets – the untamed streets – are abustle with activity. One of recognition.

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