Here’s what I saw over the weekend. Make of it what you will. I did. I was heading toward a Metro entrance on Sunday afternoon, and I saw two men, maybe fifty years old, walking along the street talking together. They may have been a couple, but it didn’t read that way. In any case that doesn’t matter. They were walking along, smiling, engaging in a fairly lively discussion, none of which I heard.

But I was thinking, what is odd about what I’m seeing here? Then it hit me. Middle-aged American men do not walk around town on a fine day having a lively conversation. Then I passed them, and heard they were speaking in an accent, which I didn’t identify.

Of course! They weren’t Americans. Washington is filled with people from somewhere else, and mostly there’s nothing very remarkable about it. But this little incident struck me, and I let my imagination inflate a tiny scrap of data into a gigantic insight. Go ahead and scoff, here’s my insight.

There’s something wrong with the culture in this country that people seem to slide out of active engagement and enjoyment of life in the world. What happens to people? Where’s the zest? These two guys had it. Not in any extreme or outlandish display, just ordinary but apparent engagement with life. It really jumped out as something I rarely see, and yet it seemed so natural when I saw it. Why does everybody exhibit a public demeanor of sodden bread after, say, age thirty? And no, mere grim determination to stay physically fit doesn’t count. Something is out of whack.