A Tableaux in Dublin

Of all the humanity that swirls around you as you sip your free-with-the-price-of-admission pint on the fifth story observation deck of the Guinness storehouse in Dublin–the beautiful revelers crammed into the glass-walled bar above you; the devoted students studying the hops wall exhibit below you; the tired parents with kids clinging to center facing bar chairs on your right and your left–the interaction that catches most of your attention is the tall, broad shouldered man leaning over what must be his teenager daughter, urgently rubbing her shoulders with a strained look that combines grief and uncertainty while she stares blankly out over the ledge. Presently his wife joins him, and then their younger son. Those three confer with one another, not saying much, clearly pained and clearly torn about what to do. The daughter never moves.

What blow has been dealt her? Has someone died? Or is it less than that, some teenage drama to which parents are sympathetic but that will be forgotten in time, the slight of a friend or the rejection of a college? There is no evidence anywhere, and I want so badly to find out. The public suffering of strangers is excruciating to witness without feeling a need to help.

Her family leave her alone for several minutes, and when they return its clear they need her to move. They are weighed down with backpacks and gift bags, and it is late in the afternoon. But she won’t, and so they can’t. They stand there motionless for another minute, exchanging pained looks every few seconds. This seems to be how they will exist forever now.

Our pints are done and our kids are restless, so we collect our jackets and begin the descent to the gift shop. I turn and look one last time to see if anything in the tableaux has moved, hoping selfishly for some resolution, or at least some movement, some hope, some progress, but I know there is none of that to be had, at least not in this moment.

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