People’s perception of you hinges so much based on your outer appearance. If you wear flamboyant clothes, you’re “out there.” If you’re wearing khakis and hiking boots, you really value comfort, and if you’re insistent on thin layers in freezing weather, you value fashion over comfort. These are all common stereotypes that people draw from a single glance, and it can take over your entire impression of a stranger. I’ve been thinking about this recently because I got my ears pierced yesterday and because of that, I feel like not only my friends but the strangers around me, even more so, are perceiving me differently.

Appearance makes such a huge difference in our impression of strangers, but it makes a lot less of a difference once you get to know someone. The appearance fades into how you associate a face with a person, but it’s just an easy identifier, a quick key to accessing an entire complex personality and soul. In the beginning, it’s the only thing that exists, but as time goes on, it fades into the background, acting as a means to a more intimate, deeper end.

I’m reminded of that liminal time after our cruise in Alaska. We had a few hours to kill in Juneau once we returned to port, and these people who we had shared every common space with for the past week returned to their original groups and traveled in those packs. Even though these people were far from strangers now (we had shared meals, excursions, drinks, or just a friendly hi on board), they were also not quite friends. They were stories that we happened to overlap with and now, the storylines were diverging, with people returning to their hometowns and normal routines. I wonder if this is how people in the travel and tourism industry feel all the time. They interface every day with so many souls who are passing through, they’re merely taking a break from their normally scheduled programming in this place and time. Routine mixes with the special and creates an almost magical launch point for connection. The serendipity of these moments always get me. It’s the same “it’s such a small world” feeling you get when you run into someone you know or remember in somewhere so out of the expected. It feels like: “wait, was that supposed to happen?” In these moments where time seems to slow and rules seem to bend, I always feel incredulous at how the world is simultaneously so massive yet so intimate.

I love that the opportunity for connection and intimacy is all around us. Sonder is the term that decorates chic wood paneling with pithy motivational phrases in cursive, but it so succinctly captures the otherwordly awe at this fact. I love the magic of the fleeting intimacy in these spaces outside of the normal flow of time. The bliss of those stolen moments are like finding gold in the mud. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it makes up for all the time spent digging in the dirt. And despite how futile it can sometimes seem, I’ll never stop looking for gold, knowing that feeling that comes from striking it big.

This is the 58th installment in my experiment of publishing raw, lightly edited mini-essays every day towards achieving 100 public pieces. Check out the rationale and the full list here.