Scene: I was in a shop and in a nook next to the cashier’s side was a small index card that said, “ask customers if they have plans for the weekend.”
I thought it odd to feel compelled to remind oneself of a common courtesy which is only relevant on one and at most two days a week. I’ll have to go back later in the week and see if she adheres to the instructions on the card. In the coming months perhaps I’ll see more of these cards with reminders such as, “say good morning to the customers,” “if a customer says thank you, say you’re welcome”. Are reminders needed to handle unexpected instances of conflict, or are those the norm? If we need cue cards to prod us towards simplistic displays of common manners, does that imply that we are so disconnected from others via the electronic divide that we’ve lost sight of the basics of everyday interaction?
Scene: As my father was typing on the computer, I turned my back and listened to the continuous clicking sounds of the keys.
It would be interesting to do a survey as to what sounds we hear most often during the course of a typical day. If that sound is absent, do we notice it? Do we crave it?
For many, the most familiar sounds that come to mind first are probably typing, a cell phone ring or the ding when you get an e-mail. For others it is the sound of their baby crying or the dripping of water from their showers. But lets explore further…
In a monastery of silence it would be the sound of footsteps.
Fishermen would hear reels, the motors of their boats, the sounds of fish flapping about in nets.
Prisoners, aside from the steps of guards, know the sound of the door opening to give them food.
Musicians know the sound of their cases opening, of their music stands unfolding and of tuning hums from machines or forks.
Seamstresses hear the delicate pop of the needle punching through fabric as they weave their creations.
Sportsmen might be most familiar with the sound of air being pumped into balls of various sizes and shapes.
The infirm become familiar with the creaking sound of their bed as they toss and turn adjusting to that special spot of maximum comfort that only they know.
The blind know the sound of their guide dog’s bark.
For all the sounds that give us that everyday feeling – that notion of sameness and thus security – how many more fill the spaces in between?
Scene: While eating supper I noticed that everyone at the table has their own unique way of placing food on their plate, the order in which they eat the food and a specific way they handle utensils.
Some place their food on their plates such that one item in no way touches the other. (Oddly enough this seems to be a pattern common amongst only children). Others build a tower – vegetables, meat on top of those and condiments/sauces on top of those. Interestingly enough this tends to be done by heads of households – father figures for example. Then there are those who allow different items to touch one another on the plate but take no particular exception to whether they do or not. You typically find this amongst mothers and amongst those with multiple siblings.
As to the eating method itself, in its most simplistic observation, it appears to be almost equally divided between those that mix items on a fork or spoon before placing them in their mouth and those who allow only one item at a time to enter. As to utensil handling the very young tend to grab them in a fist like posture, older children use a mixture of fists and more standard methods of scooping and stabbing. Adults have a variety of styles – each their own. Some scoop and stab, others prefer a bulldozer approach flipping the fork or spoon over before entry into their mouths.
Even the way you place your utensils on your plate when done is distinctive. Americans cross their knife and fork on the plate, Europeans place them parallel to one another. There are a wide variety of practices. It’s fascinating to think that the way you lay your utensils on the plate when done eating can immediately identify what part of the world you are from without you even consciously trying to convey the information to those around you. How careful spies must be!
Next time you are at the dinner table see if you can block out the identities of those around you and simply observe these patterns and see if you can guess who is who. Just another way of observing the snowflake in all of us.
Scene: I was introducing a group of children to the wonders of sand by showing them samples under a microscope.
Out of the crowd of children aimlessly loitering about I knew a breakthrough moment was at hand when a tiny 5 year old came up to my table, his eyes just barely clearing the top of it. He handed me his card with a little bit of sand on it and we proceeded to put it under the microscope. His eyes twinkled with wonder and his mouth fell open as he discovered a whole new world parallel to his own – the micro world. And our future scientist’s name? Josiah. A mighty name for a little man to grow into. The best moment was when his mother came to peer into the same scope and couldn’t stop moving it around and around, dazzled at the colors and shapes invisible to the naked eye. Even as we advance in age, the realization that there is always a rock that we’ve yet to turn over is a refreshing reminder that getting out of bed each day is well worth the effort.
Scene: While walking in my backyard I passed by a tree that has known me all my life and has likely been here centuries before me.
The larger the tree the more we tend to admire it – with age comes wisdom after all, or at least that is the prevailing lore of most societies. One often thinks of the stories it could tell if it were capable of speech. Many have seen centuries come and ago and have undoubtedly watched as the lives of people both great and not so much pass before them.
But for all of its outer grandeur, there are some key weaknesses that make it as vulnerable as all who roam in its shadow. For all of its majesty and vantage points – after all it has a 360 degree field of vision that stretches for miles and miles all in a singular moment – its view never extends beyond the boundaries it reaches at maturity. For all the centuries that it can potential survive, at some point relatively early on it will no longer gain more height. It becomes totally reliant on a fixed perimeter, incapable of expanding its view through internal growth or travel.
As a mute it is a one way receptacle of the environment in which it dwells, incapable of even the most primitive forms of communication. Even its physical form itself, despite all of its volume and apparent steadfastness, is under a constant barrage of threats against which it has no defense. Insects can burrow into its inner cavities, thus rotting it from within. Even a mild storm can twist and bend it to such an extent as to force breakage – in many cases a finality from which there is no possibility of resurrection depending on the extent of the injury.
Just another example of how even the seemingly grandest among us are just as vulnerable as we are. Our challenges are different, but our universal aim the same – to thrive and survive within our means and to aim beyond them whenever the opportunity arises.
Scene: A young man with a contraption strapped to his back blowing leaves into a pile in a parking lot.
There is steady work in leaf blowing. They are guaranteed to come down at regular intervals in every location imaginable throughout the majority of the year. Rarely are these irregularly shaped, multi-colored wonders allowed to lay where fate has placed them in peace. They are herded together, confined in bags and either burned, blown out of sight by machines or piled into heaps in designated locations to rot.
It’s all part of the modern day obsession with cleansing. Everything has its proper place and where deviation occurs it is marginalized out of sight or eradicated altogether. A mentality that sadly mirrors societal intolerance for one thing or another in communities throughout the world today. Despite constant attempts at cleansing, both great and small, – diversity of character, thought and form, like leaves, will continue to sprout from trees of knowledge and scatter to all corners of the world by the one thing no one can corral or conquer – the winds of destiny.
Scene: I got out of my car out a shop. There was no one around but I could hear someone yelling. Frantically I searched around me for where it was coming from when I noticed a man at some distance across the street pacing back and forth arguing on a cell phone.
When you hear a voice raised above a civilized volume in your immediate vicinity for most of us the immediate instinct is to get as far away from the source as possible. Others stare in a suspended state of bewilderment – so unaccustomed to something out of the ordinary occurring, they fumble around for the “playbook” on how one should respond to the sudden wrinkle in conformity. In this day and age someone else will undoubtedly film the scene on their phone to play for an equally callous audience across the internet. What about children with little life experience of discord? Would they approach the stranger and question the perpetrator in order to fully assess this new scene confronting them? What about clergy? Isn’t it their “calling” to help comfort those in emotional distress? Are we in essence leaving the distressed of the world to the care of infants and clergy – who are certainly not numerous enough to provide the global coverage necessary to even make the smallest bit of difference in situations both big and small? How do we know nobody wants help if we’re too busy running in the opposite direction to ask?
Scene: A neighbor traveling down the street on a bicycle while smoking a cigarette.
The physical mechanics of the scene in and of itself were quite impressive. After all consider how one typical huffs and puffs while riding a bicycle up and down hills. Just imagine doing it with an implement sealing the hole to your mouth while inhaling a hot smoky vapor thereby constricting your lung’s capacity to either intake or exhale oxygen. Not to mention having the sense of timing and physical coordination to take a hand off the handle bars at just the right moment in order to extricate the cigarette and quickly exhale extraneous smoke while avoiding hot ash trickling down your chest or losing your balance altogether and toppling over into a contorted mess. Truly poetry in motion! But that’s just the surface of the scene.
Every second of every day requires heading in what our intuition tells us is the “right” direction along the way balancing good habits with bad. All the while we are subconsciously aware of the fragility of our presence but never allow such knowledge to deprive us of the capacity to indulge in vices both big and small for no other reason than the simple fact that we can. We all take variations of the same path which ultimately dead ends at the same destination for each and every one of us when the wheels stop.
Scene: While typing on my keyboard a tiny green insect began to crawl across the keys.
My grey and white keyboard sits on top of a purple table. Casting aside all desire to anonymously fit in to the scene, or maliciously slip unawares in and out of sight in order to stir up mischief, the practically fluorescent tiny green insect boldly marched where it wished. Following no one, it was fearless when faced with my fingers randomly banging away within millimeters of it. Any misstep on its part and it would surely have perished. If only we all could be as courageous.
Scene: My mother taking great care as to what goes into her lunch bag taking in excess of thirty minutes to get just the right combination of goodies.
It’s a fascinating scene watching my mother pack her lunch before work each day. She isn’t like most people who just throw in whatever leftovers they have from the night before. She really puts thought into it.
She considers how busy her day is likely to be as to how many snacks she puts in. She includes less if she knows her day will have little to no down time. More if the weather is bad and she know she will likely be staying indoors for lunch – thereby interacting with co-workers who might be interested in sampling her latest culinary experiments – always French of course.
She rarely if ever packs processed food. It’s always natural ingredients like fruit and nuts or something she has made. It really has nothing to do with being health conscious. She is packing memories. We cook together often so including that cookie or hamburger we made together reminds her during the course of a stressful day of the family waiting for her return that evening. She also always includes a slice of tomato no matter the season because she used to have a tomato sandwich every day when she came home from school as a child with her mother. My grandmother has long since passed away decades ago, but my mother has never forgotten to include a tomato.