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


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