“There’s always the chance you could die right in the middle of your life story.” ~Chuck Paluniuh
I pulled into the lot in my little yellow Beetle, hoping like I always do, that I wouldn’t stall as I looked for a space. At least three times a week I come to this market on my lunch break.
I got out of my car after fishing through my empty-of-mints change box for enough money to buy a slice of the best pizza in the entire world. I’m hungry. That’s what makes it the best.
People are getting in and out of their cars and trucks, or sitting in them eating their lunch. I can’t help it. I start to smile. Sometimes I even laugh to myself, which, if caught is not a good thing. I’m so happy that people show up every day in my life. Yes. It’s my life. Mine. You might all be a figment of my imagination for all I know. But I love you for the wonderful job you’re doing. And I am thrilled to have another lunch.
I make a beeline for the pizza case. There’s a man there who is sliding his slice onto a paper plate as I look through the glass window of the other side of the warmer just to see the choices for the day. He’s not up to talking. Neither are any of the other people that I snake my way through and around to get to the checkout counter.
I think about it all the time when I’m out: how uncomfortable is it for some people to make eye contact and “play” in the moment? Very is my guess, because only one in ten persons does. Dogs and I do it very well. They always want my attention. But I’ve made the mistake a few times recently of misinterpreting a lengthy stare as wanting some attention when he really just had to pee and was really begging, “Would you please just let me out before I get into more trouble?!”
Finally, after bequeathing the change for my pizza to the girl behind the counter (she was fun by the way….joking that she would add it to her college fund) I descended the steps to a waiting table, half in the shade, facing the street.
It never fails: every time I’m eating I have gawkers. This time it was a woman sitting at a table facing me. I think I could do a very good commercial for pizza. It’s fun to watch people salivate as they stare. They really do. I catch them all the time. I so wanted to talk to her because she was more awake than my two companions sitting opposite me. I’d interpreted their lack of desire for engagement with me as tiredness and a genuine boredom with the mundane routine of lunch and life, and decided to go back to work alone where I could sing and daydream.
But as I readied to leave, my heart stood still.
A minivan pulled up to the curb and the side door slid open, revealing a woman climbing over a little boy strapped into his car seat. He reminded me of my little boy, Kenny , #8 of 9, the one who dances when no one is watching. Life, adult life, adult needs, cares and concerns were overshadowing his little body and magnificent soul.
Strapped into a car he wouldn’t be able to drive for 10 more years, his day at the mercy of a life planned by others, I wondered if he would get a chance to play. His face seemed so worried, as if he’d forgotten his joy at home, tucked under his pillow.
I let that thought work on me all day yesterday and into the night.
How hard is it for most of us to really live as if everything, everyone, every situation has seeds of opportunity for connection in it / them? How young are we when we start sleep-walking through lunch with an amazing and fun person like me?
On our walk to the pond the other day, James and Kenny and I passed an old neighbor, one who lived next door to a house we used to live in. The boys struggled to the top of the hill and left me walking at a slower pace when the road leveled out in front of this man’s house.”
“Long time no see! Where have you been?”
I didn’t sense that he wanted any details of my life, or to know that we’ve been walking to the other side of the pond closer to our house, and I needed to catch up with the boys before they reached the treacherous decline to the pond, so I said a quick, “I’ve been around, I don’t get out much, ” which was misleading because I get out every day, just not in that neck of the woods.
“You ought to get out more!” he called as we waved goodbye.
“I know,” I said, because what I think he really meant to say was that it’s nice seeing people when he’s sitting on his front step. He likes some interaction. Maybe he feels more alive?
I don’t know about you, but I get confused sometimes. I shut down when I can’t find someone to play with, and for a while I stop “showing up”. I let other people’s moods and life-concerns decide for me whether I’ll live in the moment as me or as a poor imitation.
That was how I felt after lunch and as I made my way to my car and back to work. Who was going to play with me and take a ho hum day to one filled with laughter and rejuvenating connection?
In the middle of the second half of the day I nearly burst with a new realization – one that I won’t share because it really doesn’t matter. But I really wanted to share it with someone. I had two people, my lunch partners, in the other room, to share my news with. So, I threw caution to the wind, along with the cork that was stopping up my joyful spirit, and bounded into the room.
“Guess what?!!” I semi-yelled to them, waking them from a very profound and deep and peaceful silence.
And then the sun started to rise. I could see it in the corners of their mouth first and then the light crept up to their eyes. And then in their own way they each said, “Oh, Betsy,” as I turned to leave them, walking lighter for having deposited a piece of me with them.
And that was that.
Moral of the story: If you want to play, play. 🙂