Back in the early 60s, I joined the Columbia record club. So many introductory records for a low, low price — remember this was Columbia not Cameo or Motown. One album and song I remember was Barbara Streisand’s “Funny Girl” and the hit song “People.”
“People , people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I know I can’t sing but I remember singing “People.” On the street, in the tub.
I am not sure when the importance of the line struck me. It certainly hits home today. I’m talking people not just family or friends. Just people. All kinds of people. White people, Black people, Asian people, Gay people, Strange people, Radical people, Latino people, Italian people, Young people, Old people, maybe even Conservative people . “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
I remember one of my first days at Boston College. We were waiting for an orientation session. Standing on a deck, waiting, I thought, ” I want to meet people, I want to make new friends.” I swung around, hand out stretched, and there was Gerry Masculo with his had reaching for mine. We both seemed to have had the same idea. “People who need. . . . “.
Usually our need for people is below the surface. We don’t recognize it. But then like the killer shark in Jaws it rises up and we realize how important people are in our lives. In my early years at Holy Ghost Prep, I consciously made “young friends.” I realized that young people (not just students but teachers) were important. They would keep me young, hip, alive. For 40 years I have continued to make “young friends” at HGP?
Sometime in the 80s I got more involved in community activity. I ran and served on Yardley Borough Council and joined a lot of community organizations. I realize I was seeking new people.
Sometimes the people in our lives have nothing to do with community or work. In the early 70s, I took some workshops with National Geographic photographers in Maine. Bruce Dale looked at my portfolio and said “There are no photographs of people.” In the next week Bruce taught me to photograph people. My camera became a tool to meet people.
The next year Diane and I went to England. My purpose: to meet and photograph people. Many of the images I took record fascinating encounters with local English people. I have had similar experiences on the streets of Philadelphia — meeting and photographing homeless people or Italian Americans at a street festival. For me the ultimate use of the camera as a tool to meet people happened in Nicaragua. For 10 years Rob Buscaglia and I took students to Nicaragua as part of a service project called Ayudanica. In the villages, streets, and markets I photographed people. The next year I took my subjects some of the photographs. They were surprised but thankful. One year led to two to eight. I made many friends. People, people who need people are . . . . .”
As I look around the corner, I realize the critical need of people. Friends “young and some older” have helped me through my last working year. As I begin to explore the world with multiple lens, different perspectives, I want to remember “we all need people.” When I take a train to Philadelphia (senior citizen $1); I meet people. When I take a walk on the Canal, I meet people. I want to take the time to stop and say “hello.” I want to come back tomorrow and see how someone is doing.
In college in the 1960s, I read “The Secular City” by Harvey Cox. Although I have not reread the book (yet); I think I remember Cox saying that in the modern world we don’t have time on our commute to work or we are really not interested in knowing that the bus driver’s daughter is sick or his wife has a new job. I am not sure if I agreed or disagreed with Cox back then. Or maybe that’s not what he said. Maybe I need to reread “Secular City.”
But I do know that today, I want to have the time and the interest to ask the bus driver how his daughter is doing and to congratulate his wife on the new job. “People who need people are the happiest people in the world.” Thanks Barbara and whoever wrote the line.