Tuesday, March 31, 2020

INFECTIOUS SMILES – As If For the First Time

Many of you know of my occasional column here on OMW, As If For the First Time. It’s about noticing and celebrating the simplest, most ubiquitous small wonders in one’s life. Experiences so commonplace, perhaps so repetitious, that
we may no longer even notice them.

A hot shower, the sun, water, an autumn leaf, eating an orange or strawberry—it’s
a fresh look at things like this, seen from different points of view and employing as many of one’s senses as possible.

                 I think about them for an extra few seconds,
                 just long enough for wonder and gratitude to
                 come into sharper focus.

Well, this COVID 19 nightmare is really shaking up my sense of what can and can’t be taken for granted anymore. I'm starting to see lots of things as if for the first—or perhaps last—time. By forcing us into our homes, this menace also forced us into ourselves. By confronting us with our own mortality, it’s tapping into a wellspring of awe and gratitude that far too often runs dry.

I don’t know about you, but during these uneasy days I’m finding more and more of my fleeting observations worthy of at least a moment of reflection. So, instead of unconsciously dismissing them in a blur of indifference, I consider them for an extra few seconds, just long enough for awareness to come into sharper focus.

The latest of these little epiphanies came yesterday as I was out walking. It was a pretty gloomy afternoon, a cool, drizzly approximation of November. Still, there were lots of people—and nearly as many dogs—strolling along the bluffs of the Mississippi.

Like the decent, God-fearing Minnesotans we are, everyone was keeping their distance.

Given the shared trauma we’re all going through, I’ve decided that, even if we do have to be a bit paranoid about each other, we can certainly manage a pleasant greeting. So, even as we pass well beyond arm’s length, I like to make eye contact if possible, smile and extend a friendly hello.

At times like this, as in times of war and deprivation, even a mute gesture of connection can be extraordinarily powerful, laden with meaning. How are you doing? I know what you must be going through. Maybe I can’t even imagine.
Fare well.

And thank goodness most folks respond, a few even cracking the distant stare that suggests they’re actually somewhere else like on the phone or absorbed in a podcast. But at least they acknowledge me.

Okay, so call me a narcissist for expecting everyone to notice me. I realize some people wouldn’t do this in the blissful normalcy of life before the C-bug. I'm glad they're doing it now.

After all, during this, one of those rarest of times in history when every single human being on Earth is allied with each other in fighting a common enemy, I would hope we're learning something.

It could—and should—start with our acknowledging our fundamental oneness with our fellow, rather insignificant earthlings and with this, the only habitat we’ll ever share. I’m afraid that if we do not learn at least that, we deserve neither each other nor this beautiful planet we call home.

IMAGE: Pixabay

Social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t look at each other. It doesn’t mean we can't smile—even if we have to force it a bit—and appreciate these simple gestures for the wonders they are. So thank you, even if you’re hurting, for giving a stranger those elemental gifts of a knowing smile and a simple greeting. The connection works both ways.

       One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, 'What if I
never seen this before? What if I knew I would never
       see it again?'
             RACHEL CARSON

Friday, March 27, 2020

SHOOTS – The Terrible, Beautiful Irony of This Spring

Have you been wondering, as have I, what the Universe might be trying to tell us? With this waking-to-a-nightmare pandemic? With our natural environment, even before the C-bug, raging, begging us to let up on our abuse?

What irony. A planet, our precious home, reeling under the effects of our arrogance, our thoughtless excesses; and the same planet reminding us of our utter insignificance. Making it quite clear that it’s not really Mother Earth who’s in danger of extinction; it is us.

You know how I know this? These cool plum-and-green fingers of Spring tell me, reaching, as they will every year, for air, for light, for water. Their fragility belies their power, not just to thrust, slow-motion, through anything in their way, but also to penetrate and somehow calm this piddling mortal’s trembling soul.

Monday, March 2, 2020

OFF TO MEXICO – Yum-m-m!

I'm like a hungry man about to sit down to a hearty four-course meal. That's how I'm feeling on the eve of my 28th trip to Mexico.

As beautiful as Minnesota winters can be, they starve us of sensation. Against this backdrop of bland whites and grays and taupes, we're challenged to find the sustenance of color in detail and nuance—like a rosy cheek or a tenacious freeze-dried crab apple. Smells are served unseasoned, frozen in midair. Sound, too, seems squeezed out of its luscious fullness like dried fruit. Even touch is blunted by layers of nylon (most of it black, it seems), feathers and fleece.

   A Minnesotan would be dragged before
   the neighborhood association for painting his 

   house these vivid shades of pink, blue or gold.

In most of Mexico, including Zihuatanejo, Guerrero where I'm headed, climate and culture collaborate to nourish one with colors, sounds, smells and flavors.

The colors: a Minnesotan would be dragged before the neighborhood association for painting his house these vivid shades of pink, blue or gold. The smells: so often they reveal, where sights may not, the real life that's going on beyond the sphere of one's sanitized tourist experience. The tastes: there's nothing dried or preserved about them; they're fresh and true and sometimes surprising. And the touch, oh, the caress of that soft, warm, delicious air pouring in off the Pacific!

Even the sounds of this place transport me: the haunting, three-note pan-flute plea of the itinerant knife sharpener; the blare of música norteña from passing cars and work sites; the other-worldly rasping of a covey of chachalacas. And behind it all, the soft, sure respiration of the surf.

Maybe it's the warmth that unlocks both stimuli and senses. Belying the laid back, unhurried lifestyle, the sensations of Mexico stir in me a subtle sense of urgency. A mango, for example, just picked from the tree outside our villa door, is such a beautiful form just to look at. But no sooner than it begins to blush with full color you have to eat it or it loses its tang and turns to mush. So many beautiful things are transient.

And Zihuatanejo's a place of seamless flow between indoor and outdoor life. With little notion of that confinement we Minnesotans suffer during winter, you sense everything going on —in El Centro, down at Playa La Ropa out on Zihuatanejo Bay—and want to be a part of it all. But it's okay; anything you do—even nothing at all—feels completely satisfying, thoroughly nourishing of body and spirit.