Saturday, May 22, 2010

Meditations Upon a Bookstore.

Last spring, I made a pact with myself. I didn't tell anyone about it. There was no one to tell.

I promised myself, that if I appreciated something about someone: their actions, smile, writing, etcetera, I would tell them. Within the past year, taking my promise to perhaps a legalistic level, I have actually told a complete stranger that he had a lovely beard. This was not flirting, this was paying attention. I wanted to pay attention. I had lived through inattention. I had been invisible.

My best friend Val does this, and I learned it from her. It freaked me out at first. She tells random strangers things, things that I didn't tell (let alone notice about) my friends. She would also secretly pick lint, fuzz, and stray hairs off of peoples' clothing (I was first introduced to this caring behavior while being mass-transported, packed like a sardine in a crowded San Francisco bus. She didn't tell them anything. They didn't even notice. But, when they arrived at wherever important place they were surely headed, they were Put Together, fuzz-free!) I have not taken things to this level, not yet at least. Although, I admit there have been times I have wanted to and backed away, retreating in fear that they would notice my hand stretching out to pick their lint like our ancestors did lice. Maybe this action is indeed instinctual. I can't help it. It's human DNA!

Last spring, I was in a very strange and very new place. A woman I did not know lent me a devotional book. A man left a Thank You card at the bookstore where I work as an offering of gratitude for my directional advice, and there were many more notice-ings of strangers.

My father once called me the "eternal optimist." We were vacationing in New York City, and the weather was miserable. We Blocks are a frugal breed. We save. We walk. No cabs for us! It rained. "It could be worse," I said. Well, indeed it could. It started sleeting. "It could be worse," I said again, and it began turning to snow. In exasperation my dad told me to stop saying that.

However, I am now an admitted pessimist. I don't trust that things will "work out," and I don't believe what people say until their words are proven by actions. They will forget. They will get too "busy." Their attention will be turned elsewhere.

I don't want to be one of These People. I want to pay attention. I promise, I do. And as I grow into this promise, I am too often reminded of my humble humanity, and that I will fail. But, I promised myself I would do my damnedest.

This weekend I was given plants: living, breathing green life. An old woman with wrinkles around her smile, wearing a large straw gardening hat, gave me basil, chives, mint, parsley, rhubarb, sage, tomato, and two Plants of Mystery. "I don't know what those are yet," she said pointing, "see what they do, and bring me one of their eventual blooms and I will tell you what they have become."

I am certain that this old woman with the crinkled smile and straw hat, just wanted to get rid of the straggling plants leftover from the gardening club sale outside the bookstore where I work. Or, perhaps she noticed my daydreamer eyes gazing out the window from my countered perch...maybe she was paying attention.

And so, I have been working all afternoon amid smells of basil and chives; silently, the plants sit behind the bookstore counter held in a shallow grey tub, the kind used for kitty-litter boxes. They grow dim as the hours pass and my attention is paid elsewhere. They ask to be planted, to grow their roots in a do I...

Sautéed zucchini and basil...

...the salad it dressed was gone before I could take a picture.


  1. Oh, I remember the sleet so well. I would like to meet this lovely old lady that will interpret the blooms. You may wish to have her examine your tea residue as well.

  2. Is it sad that I have stopped paying attention to people because I am usually disappointed in their actions? It seems to me that compassion for those around you has been lost. Maybe I'll give it another shot...

  3. Elegant Mistake - I had forgotten about some of these old posts...thank you, for caring to go back and read them...that is paying attention, right there! And while I still pay attention, I have started to expect that people will disappoint in word and deed. Sometimes, I am surprised though. Yes, give it another shot. :)

  4. I never feel right, when finding a new blog, just starting where I find them. I realize that it may take me some time to catch up to the current but it's usually worth it.

    I will definitely give it another shot. Thank you for the inspiration to do so!

  5. It's always interesting to read the history...of anything...