“No imagination, I guess.”

For the sake of privacy, I am going to be scant on certain details.

I went on vacation to a warm place on the coast. I was visiting a friend, we fell in with a local artist, and this artist took us to romp around a local, undeveloped island. There we met some of the people who live there, essentially off the grid, who have solar panels and cell phones but sleep in tents on land none of them own. They drag cast-off furniture up from the beach and cook over a campfire surrounded by rocks. This particular morning, when we appeared on the path and the artist called out her greetings, their leader invited the three of us into their camp.

After introductions, the islanders chatted with the artist, with whom they are familiar and friendly, catching up with her and catching her up. The biggest events since they’d last seen her related to an inflated sofa tucked between some trees on the island’s north side and a spat with usurpers who’d come to the island. These men had set up camp beside the tent of a couple who were now sitting beside the fire. The men had set up in the same clearing without asking permission and then had refused to move. They’d stayed up late making noise and moving around beside the couple’s tent, generally being pests until, one day while the couple was off the island, they ripped down their tent and threw their stuff into the trees. The woman wanted to retaliate with glitter bombs, which I thought a rather restrained response considering, but the mother of the island (a steady woman who spoke so rarely that every word had ten times the weight of anyone else’s) had advised against. And so, even the talk of retaliation had stopped. The male leader explained how unreasonable these people were, how the islanders around this fire would have helped them make another camp elsewhere, and been good neighbors to them, if they’d only asked.

He asked several times, clearly still frustrated, “Why move right there? Why take over someone else’s camp?” The others kept reiterating how close they’d set up their tent to the couple’s, how hot that camp is in summer, how each of them—even the mother—had tried to convince them to give the camp back to the couple.

“Why do it?” asked the leader again and again. “Why would someone be that way?” And as I studied the woven armoire adorned by parrot feathers, he answered his own question: “No imagination, I guess.”

It seemed like such a strange conclusion, that I turned back to him.

He said, “I guess they couldn’t look at a place and see its potential. I guess they were afraid of settling somewhere new, where they didn’t know if it’d flood on high moon tides or be covered by birds in winter. Not that we wouldn’t have told them. But maybe they couldn’t picture how it could be. I suppose they thought, ‘Well, these people have been living here for years so it must be an okay camp.’”

Still frustrated but clearly resigned to this new conclusion, he sighed, “Just no imagination, I guess.”

I distrust people with no imagination. No imagination to put themselves in another’s shoes, no imagination to reinvent a space or schedule so it’ll work for them. People who say, “Don’t ever change.” People who believe that society and systems won’t ever change.

Which is not to say that I’m fantastic at this. I try hard to imagine what might have created this fist-clenched woman in front of me or this selfish, vapid man. I try to consider who they might become, who I might become, and speak kindly. I try to look beyond “Well, this works for now/ever” and see what would make me happier. I don’t want to be someone with no imagination. I don’t want to mooch off of other people’s attempts to improve their lives. I don’t want to dismiss someone else’s way of living simply because haven’t lived that way. I don’t want to say I’m a dog person because, actually, I’ve never lived with a cat.

The leader’s words struck me as strange at the time. By way of explanations, it seemed shallow, a mite compared to the usurpers’ behavior. But the more I think on it, the more I do see the leader’s sense.

So, this week, I’m taking Birdie’s advice in You’ve Got Mail (one of my favorite movies). I’m daring to imagine that I can have a different life.

I’m not talking about huge changes necessarily. Getting up earlier, shifting some furniture, volunteering at a hospital, starting to dance again. I won’t do them all, but I’m imagining. And I’m daring to imagine bigger things, too, like living on a boat with a friend, trying online dating, taking singing lessons, pursuing my master’s, traveling abroad again.

I do love so much about my life, but it seems like a really good time to imagine.

3 thoughts on ““No imagination, I guess.”

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