Sanitas per aquas

I love that phrase. Always have. I came across it when I was a child—I think it was the first time I learned that a language such as Latin existed, and I became fascinated by it. It has stayed in my mind ever since.

Water is a refuge, and my refuge of choice is a boiling hot shower. Andy and I share opinions in that regard: we both agree that coming out lobster-y is the best way to go.

The confines of the shower and the mechanistic motions of scrubbing make it far too easy for my mind to wander. My lack of distance vision is well-known; the solitude enforced by the sound of water and the closed bathroom is magnified by my inability to see more than an arm's-span away.Here is where my mind drifts: my back to the shower spigot (I am convinced that the tattoo of boilingly-hot water against the back of one's neck is quite possibly one of the greatest sensations ever discovered, and I avail myself of it regularly), head leaned against the wall. My hair—which has grown back down past my chin and is rapidly encroaching upon my shoulders—clumps up into its natural curls and spouts off water in varied directions.

I watch, fascinated. The water spills off of me, and I am fascinated by the clarity of it—a thing that is only seen by the effects it has on the objects it touches. Turn my head; my shoulders are freckled strangely in a way that only make sense if you know my past. Know that, and you know that in the summer before my freshman year of college, I was caught outside for eight hours on a glaringly sunny day wearing a tank top and no sunscreen. I returned home that evening with every exposed portion of my body excruciatingly blistered. But, of course, the sunburn stopped at the edge of my tank top.

Today, nearly six years later, my shoulders are freckled—but the freckles stop in a sharp line where the tank top protected my skin. It is an anomaly. It shouldn't be there. But it is one of my favorite parts about myself; an experience, a memory, a tangible difference between myself and the person next to me.

I find similar things fascinating in other people. Standing in a shower-stall-confined pile of steam and water and soap, it's easier to realize that I find perfection utterly boring. Useless. What is the use of having a body with no marks, no distinguishing features, nothing unusual or different? Where is the beauty and individuality in a mannequin?

That's not to say I find someone with a third eye appealing. (Apologies to my three-eyed readers.) I suppose you understand, when you think about it—it's the idiosyncracy that I find attractive and infinitely interesting. When I think of people I care about, I sometimes find that it's the things they like least about themselves that I like—and remember—the most. It's not the warts I'm looking for, it's the realism.

This line of thought had been turning over in my head since half past midnight, when I was sitting in an IHOP with Geof Morris and Rick King, talking our way through the segue from beer buzz to tiredness. I had pulled out my wallet—always a useful store of random stuff worth laughing over—and Rick had shown me his driver's license picture. There was a wistful tone in his voice when he said, "Yeah, and when this picture was taken, I actually weighed two hundred pounds."

"But," I wanted to blurt out, "you're six feet six inches tall! You wouldn't look right at that weight!" I said something to that effect, but the look he gave me told me he didn't quite believe my words. How can you explain at half past midnight through beer and exhaustion that the difference between that magic number and his current number is one of things like a soft curve on a forearm, a gentle relaxation of facial curves in a smile?

How can you explain something like that without sounding condescending—or worse, sounding like a cheap come-on line? It was neither—it was truth. Or, at least, truth in my eyes.

These kinds of images are caught in passing, in glance, when your mind is elsewhere. A picture I have of Andrew sparked a memory in me earlier this week: through years of piano practice, his finger muscles are now so strong that his pinky fingers bend concave when he strikes a note with them. They are slim fingers with an incredible amount of strength and dexterity in them, and I find them infinitely more fascinating than his face.

I love the fact that I can line my shoes up next to Brad's and laugh at the fact that if I ever tried to put my painfully tiny foot in his shoe that the shoe would fall off. (He is, after all, a full foot taller than me.) I love that Jeff's moles are dark brown and small while mine are larger and paler. That I can look at my mother and see the same large pores on her nose that she bequeathed to me.

I like the fact that Andy wears his watch halfway up his forearm and has a tan line underneath it. At the bottom of a Jessica's hair I can see a darker shade of blonde that she must not care for, because she colors it. (But I like the contrast; she's a person of contrasts—think of it as a conscious choice on her part to make herself into what she wants to be, and you've got a whole line of thought worth exploring there.)

Or Jeff—who has a largish scar on one foot, the result of a nasty childhood accident that I've begged him never to explain to me, for fear of giving me nausea. Despite the fact that I don't want to know how it happened, I am fascinated by the result.

My fascination with people goes past what they tell me, to what they don't tell me: the friend that has stretch marks from dealing with weight gain and loss. The ones that have to search out narrower/wider/longer than normal shoes for a decent fit. For the ones whose teeth are like mine and don't line up quite right, who can't see without their contacts, who can't eat certain fruits or milk or chocolate or nuts.

And for the fact that they care for other people, love other people, and find other people intriguing for reasons I'll never completely know or understand. It makes me watch, it makes me observe surreptitiously, for everything new I learn about others is another way to put myself into a truer perspective. These things I take for granted, here in the shower and elsewhere—freckles, hair, scars, skin—are things that, in different permutations, are equally taken for granted by others.

It's not that I want to dig into their souls and understand everything. I just want enough to understand our differences, because they're much more interesting than our similarities.