I don't know what it was about this interaction that stilled me so. The words hit me and I sighed with contented longing, as one does when reading great poetry or watching a sublime musical performance. Their conversation was slight, but contained a soul-baring honesty, the lowering of an emotional shield in the course of a few lines. I reproduce the words here, that they might offer something akin to what I felt in the moment:
I heard only their voices, somewhere just behind me. From the sounds of it they were strangers. I seem to recall their presences appearing at different stops. The woman, with a large white dog, was soft-spoken and elderly. The man's voice was that of one in early middle age, a world-weary resignation stemming from a being still too young for such things. The disenchantment in his tone was colored with hopes not dashed, but subdued.
"Love," he said. "Love is overrated. Girlfriends are overrated."
"I don't know about that," she said quietly.
"Having a personal dog as a friend is not overrated." Here he paused, and they shared a mutual silence.
Then he continued: "Marriage... I could go into a whole list of stuff that's overrated. I'm overrated."
I looked ahead at the glistening nighttime pavement streaking by, deep reds and blues reflected in the wet surfaces, giving life to the inky indigo blackness all around. The many tiny sounds that together collected to form his voice seemed borne from years of disappointed loss. He made the statements as if testing their veracity, disillusioned but unable to commit to such a broken worldview. Hope is hard to quell, and has an detectable ring even when it's faint.
Her responses were those of someone who listens, who doesn't explicitly disagree if she can help it. Their shared silences felt like small victories, agreements between two very different souls. The space after his "perhaps" was an opening floodgate. He wasn't dispirited anymore. He had let his guard down, no longer lashing out, daring to look in a mirror, somehow feeling easier. I heard them chuckle lightly. The seed of a tremendous new thought can grow from the most unexceptional of circumstances.
The two strangers kept talking after that, but I forget the words. All I heard was a gentle rising in the man's tone. The face I finally looked at when he got up to leave was not one of chagrin. He was feeling lighter already, on his way to somewhere new.