In the Present

I am on a flight to Boston.  The bustle of passengers, the loud crackle of the flight attendant announcements, and the dull roar of the engines barely register with me thanks to my incessant need to check my emails.  I am on the aisle and the seat next to me is empty.  At the window, is a man in his late sixties.  Long grey hair pulled back into a ponytail, thin arms with green tattoos faded past the point of any recognizable form.  Lost in my phone, I didn’t even notice he was speaking to me at first.  It wasn’t until he gently touched me on the elbow and leaned into me that he caught my attention.  “Is this all really normal?”  He asked me quietly.  I was completely confused and it evidently showed on my face because he clarified, “This is my first time flying, I’m just nervous.”

I responded quickly with a “Yeah, it’s normal” and went back to my phone.  Finally, it was time to switch my phone to airplane mode and put the emails away as the plane began to take off.  That was when I thought back to the interaction.  This man was genuinely nervous about a new experience, something out of his comfort zone, and had reached out to a stranger for comfort and I had basically brushed him off.

I took out my earbuds, put my phone away, and decided to be present.   He was flying home from visiting his grandchildren.  A cancer diagnosis had forced him to fly instead of driving like he had done so many times in the past.  We spent an hour talking about his life, building cabins in northern Arkansas, taking his grandkids trout fishing, and lost years from opioid addictions. 

After a few jack and cokes, he dozed off and left me to my thoughts. I realized then I nearly missed a chance to be human to someone.  To be the bare minimum that should be required from me as a member of our species.  Basic human kindness.

I began to wonder how many other times I had missed someone reaching out.  A coworker trying to connect or a neighbor needing a sympathetic ear.  How many opportunities to be the very thing someone needed in their day did I allow to slip by?  I tried to play back the week in my mind, combing through conversations for any signs I missed.  There were at least a few. 

Doesn’t everyone need and deserve that every once in a while?  Someone to simply engage, to listen, to be interested in how they are feeling and what they are experiencing.  Someone to be present. I know I do.

So be open, be present.  Even the smallest interaction could lead to something amazing.  Maybe you open up and find a deeper, stronger connection than you’ve ever known.  Or maybe you shake hands, wish them well on the rest of their journey and never see them again. 

Either way, you’ll each be better for it. 

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” – Henry David Thoreau

Photo by Jason Toevs on Pexels.com

Graffiti

Graffiti

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Until earlier this year, if you were near downtown Austin, you might happen upon a local oddity.  The Graffiti Park at Castle Hill was one of the most unique sites Austin had to offer.   For nearly eight years graffiti artists from all over would come to imbue the park with their creativity, even if it was only to be covered up by another artist soon.

Vibrant images and swirls covered every available surface of the park, even the trash cans were ornate from graffiti.  Some of the work was intricate, detailed images of faces, animals, monsters, stylized words.  Amazing and detailed portraits that would astound visitors.

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Austin’s Graffiti Park – CREDIT JORGE SANHUEZA-LYON / KUT

Others were crudely constructed attempts that looked more like something I would do if given a can of spray paint and freedom to express myself.  Undisciplined scrawling across every available surface.

But overall there was this sense of awe.  You could visit the park in the morning and by afternoon the artwork could be different. The countless hours, artists and amateurs it took to create the beautiful chaos was inspiring. 

The Graffiti Park reminds me to appreciate the beautiful chaos of life.  Some days are intricate, detailed portraits of life;  a lazy summer day reclining on warm sand as my two young sons’ attempts to bury my legs in the sand are continually thwarted by the tide. A late afternoon car ride, windows down and the smell of honeysuckle on the warm air as it fills the car.  Then there are the days filled with the boys fighting, the dog barking,  and the car breaking down. Life becomes a scrawled four-letter word on a trash can.

If I focus too long on either, I miss the big picture.  The beautiful chaos of life.  And just like at the Graffiti Park, sometimes it’s best to step back and take in the whole picture, to view life like one work of art made up of a billion unique moments.

A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life. – Charles Darwin