Together but separate

Ego barrier

The night train from Madrid to Murcia had the type of carriages where passengers sit in compartments: a row of 3 facing a row of 3, for eight upright hours through darkness.

At the age of 20, I decided to study for a year in Spain. I didn’t speak Spanish. I’d never travelled abroad alone.

So I sat in silence as the passengers gabbled and cut slices of wizened cured sausage with pocket knives. They offered me some and I shook my head no.

The local independent gas station here in Canada has an improvised anti-Covid barrier. Two white sewage pipes held upright by black flanges, a slit in the pipes holds a sheet of clear plastic.

The convenience store up the road wraps the cashier in a box of crumpled, scratched sheeting. The credit card machine protrudes through a hole. There’s someone behind the screen pointing instructions. A waving shadow.

When I chat with a friend, I’m so busy in my head that I’m hardly with them. They say words but I don’t listen. I say words back. It’s a conversation barred by egos.

Only sometimes – really, only sometimes – do I stop my thoughts and notice. I look into their eyes and I see them.

Trouble is, that often freaks them out, so we both erect our barriers again.

Somehow it’s more comfortable that way. Together but separate.

But we’re not in the same space at all.

This is one of series of emails and cartoons on the stuff of life. Get them in your own inbox at