What you see when you’re actually looking

A few years ago, some family from Virginia came to visit Stu, Cari, and me in Florida, and we went to Downtown Disney for dinner and browsing.  Our rich meal didn’t agree with all of the members of our party: one of our visitors (who will remain nameless) was pretty uncomfortable, pained, and, most notably, pretty gassy that night.  Fortunately, in that group, she wasn’t embarrassed, and made a joke of her predicament.  In one of the high end shops that sells art glass and figurines, she sidled up to me, feigning interest in a piece I was looking at before leaving a ridiculously stinky fart behind without any warning.  I covered my nose and complained loudly while getting clear of the fumes, and she was delighted in my irritation.  Later, as we walked past a similar family group walking in the opposite direction, she delivered an epically deadly but silent fart that has become legend in our family.  We knew it happened because her step quickened and laughter started shaking her shoulders in the same way she had tormented me earlier in the evening.  But when one of the women in the family we passed said “Oh my god” in a voice that was audible to us even as the distance between us widened, our whole group erupted into spontaneous peals of hysterical laughter.  We couldn’t help it.  I’ve often wondered at how observers of our family interpreted that moment.  For us, it was the culmination of a whole lot of little jokes that had happened all evening long.  It was an example of how free we felt together, comfortable enough to fart in front of one another, and comfortable enough to laugh at one another about it.  But I can only guess at what the crowds around us saw in that brief moment, if they were even looking.

I caught a similar moment today: driving through Pass-a-Grille, I lifted my eyes to watch the beautiful houses for a moment when I watched a woman walking behind another woman and a child brush her fingers past her face, grimacing in the obvious reaction to something stinky.  I couldn’t help chuckling to myself.  I had witnessed such an awkward moment, on the same level as turning to the car next to you to observe a 40 year-old man singing passionately to some Taylor Swift.  A private moment that most people wouldn’t be pleased to know someone else had observed.

It occurred to me in that moment that I had opportunities to see plenty if I would only pay attention, but I hadn’t been–I had my nose buried in my cell phone.  In that moment, though, I decided to watch more carefully.  As a result, I spent the rest of the evening seeing silly and striking things.

We ended up at a restaurant called The Moon Under Water where Stu, Cari, and I were seated on the porch between the bar and the hostess table.  There was a 30 minute wait for a table, so most patrons gave the hostess their names and walked past us to the bar where they would pass the next thirty minutes drinking (mostly) large pints of beer.  It is a pub after all.  After a few minutes, Stu caught on to my game, and we watched the passing customers with great interest.  There was first date couple, two very fashionable young people who tried to navigate the awkwardness of making small talk before settling into the comfort of a table with a menu to discuss.  Then there was the older woman who incongruously double fisted two enormous handled jugs glasses of beer.  Or the woman who applied her pink lipstick to her entire face as she walked from the restaurant.  Or the woman who put on her scarf with such determination that she hit her companion in the face.

I managed to observe some pretty impressive beauty in St. Petersburg, too.  I am still struck by how the trees of Vinoy Park grow so elegantly, romantically.  The boats on the water were proud and graceful, their sails snapping a little in the wind that made my hair fly all around my face.  Then there were people captured in beautiful moments. I caught a very intense conversation between a father and his teenaged son: the father seemed sympathetic and kind toward his son, but his son just looked away.  There was a family much like ours that decided to treat their young daughter to a ride in the Cinderella-style horse drawn carriage, providing the girl with the princess treatment, complete with beauty queen waves to her loving subjects.  And there was incredibly thoughtful trolly driver who told us about the best restaurants in the area and drove us to USF St. Pete (outside of his normal route) because I said I had taken a class there.

There wasn’t anything especially remarkable about tonight.  My family decided to take a drive to St. Petersburg, walk around a bit, share a meal, and take a ride in the trolly.  But because I had managed to take off my blinders for a little while, I managed to see more of the world around me.

I’m so guilty of distraction that makes me lose focus of what’s happening around me.  For the whole year that Stu had an iPhone before I did, I complained incessantly that he couldn’t get his nose out of his phone.  Now, I’m pretty certain that I’m even worse than he was.  I troll Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, commenting on the lives my friends have instead of living in my own.  I guess the lesson is that sometimes it’s important for me to disconnect from the things that distract and force myself to engage in the present.  When I do, I’m never disappointed.  Facebook can wait.

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