"I've been thinking a lot about this thing we all do -- life…" she began, her pencil absently tracing an invisible line around the open notebook page in her lap. She never looked at me, never looked up, although I don't think she was looking at the pencil and its line either. I'm not sure where she was looking.
"…there are over seven billion people on this planet, the ones we know of anyway, and most of them -- nearly all of them really -- will never know you. They won't even know you were born at all. To them, you don't exist, never have, and never will. That, in itself, is enough to make you pause, isn't it? To know that even though you are sitting here right now, sipping coffee with me and feeling the sunshine on your face, thinking about what's for dinner and that you have to do laundry, for most people on the planet you do not even exist.
"You are Schrödinger's Cat -- you exist and you do not in the exact same instant. That right there can get me stuck for days, unable to move past it, to bother thinking about anything more.
"But there is more. Since you do exist, why? Why are you here? Or me, or your parents, your neighbors… It's enough to realize that a majority of the planet doesn't know you exist, but those that might won't particularly care. Not out of meanness or cruelty, just practicality. You know?"
Her gaze flicked up briefly, if only to anchor in the present and then returned to…wherever.
"It's just, well, you are in the same way they are. No different. Nothing special to them. The ones you pass in the grocery store parking lot, or who cut you off in traffic -- they now know you exist because they've seen you but, so what?
"In every state in the U.S. there are thousands of towns to choose to live in. Thousands of places to be. None are better than any others, really --they are just choices (or lack of them). But within each town there are thousands of people scurrying about doing whatever it is they think is important. Those thousands there know nothing of us here.
"And we are back to this thing we all do -- life. We are all doing it at the same time on the same planet, in all these towns and cities, but so what? To what end?
"Seems to me, we are little more than insects, the lot of us scuttling around focused on whatever we are obsessed with, occasionally coming into contact with others -- some in meaningful ways, some not.
"Have you ever watched ants? They will rush about, grabbing bits of food, some of them bumping against one another and telling each other where to go, or passing bits along the path. But those at one end of the line may never, ever meet those at the other. Never know they are there. Never care. They all just go about their business.
"How are we any different? Some of us are ants, some grasshoppers, or beetles, a rare few are butterflies and Luna moths, and far, far too many are mosquitoes and ticks.
"Here we are, being whatever bug we are and doing what that bug does. And never mind the billions of people on the planet for whom you will never exist at all, or in your own state, even in your own little microcosm -- in your city or town -- how many hundreds of people will never know you, never know you are here, and what's more, are none the worse for it…
"…how does that sit with you? They are none the worse for it.
"So…what? What's the point of this thing we all do -- life?
"Because whatever lies beyond our little microcosm really doesn't care. We don't matter. There are those I will never know are even here, and I don't miss them.
"So…what? What? Is it simply to make our little microcosm as serene and rich as we can? Is that all?"
She paused and I suddenly realized she was looking at me. That it had been an actual, intentional question.
I shook my head and tucked my hair behind my ear. "I -- I don't know," I said. "Maybe. Maybe that's enough?"
I hadn't meant it to be a question, but there it was. Hanging in the air over her coffee cup like a low-lying cloud. Like those weird foam clouds that fall to the ground in Morocco and end up on Youtube.
She took a deep breath and picked up her coffee cup, dispersing the question hovering above. "Huh. Maybe..."
She glanced up again, meeting me gaze. "I don't know. It's weird, though, this thing we all do."
It wasn't a question, but I answered it anyway. "Yes."
And we watched a monarch butterfly perch a moment on the edge of the table, it's wings slowly opening and closing in the summer sun before it lifted once again and became lost it in the eternal blue.