Wednesday, December 9, 2009


She walked in, totally prepared for the driving rain, in her hooded waterproof poncho and galoshes, water-resistant outer gloves covering her knit ones. But there was nothing she could do about her glasses fogging up when she entered Parco, warm and moist as usual with all the baking being done in back. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do, no matter how prepared you are, no matter how hard you try, I thought. She giggled good-naturedly at her momentary blindness, at the reality that there were likely to be negative affects of the dreary day. She leaned out her cheek for her star appreciatively, having no hands to take it as she held her bag and reached for the knob.

"I needed that," she said.

I laughed. "I noticed," I said.

Sad to say, sometimes nobody notices. Or they notice and don't care. But I love where I live, 'cause I love to notice people. Yesterday, for example, I noticed the graceful dancelike motions of a waiter at the diner I frequent. I laughed as he returned toward me, having swirlingly offered up menus as one might in a movie scene where drama turns suddenly into musical. I mentioned this to him, that I love movie scenes like that, like the one in 500 Days of Summer where he is happy and the whole of the world around him joins in with song and dance.

My friend, the waiter, blushed slightly but nodded.

"I love that kind of shit," he said. "I always imagine what would happen if I just broke out into a musical number."

I laughed. "I knew it," I said, "I could see that..."

He told me, sheepishly in front of his friend who might laugh, that Enchanted was one of his fave movies, Fiddler on The Roof his fave soundtrack. If you saw him, this might surprise you. You cannot know what resonates with a person, though, by how they look. You have to watch them, you have to notice the little things they do.

Funny, we are often so busy thinking about our own selves, that we fail to pay attention to the realities of others' inner lives, the realities of even the most rich and famous, to give people the benefit of the doubt. Every day in Brooklyn, I meet people who have moved here, to this country, to be who they want to be, to find a way to get their unique message out into the world, to take advantage of America's foundation of "freedom" to parlay their inner selves outward.

Last night, I jumped into the corner deli for some salsa for our weekly Family Taco Night. It's always a good night when we have tacos, everyone munching happily, don't ask me why. It was the same for me, growing up. Anyway, I said a hearty hello to the young man working in the store and then complimented him on his pin, the bold, bearded face of a man who obviously inspired him.

"Do you know who it is?" he asked.

I am painfully uneducated on world leaders. He looked like Nostradamus to me...

He laughed. "No. It is Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia." He went on to tell me of Mr. Selassie's reign and his efforts to modernize and globalize the African people, to lead them to peace and prosperity. He was in a reggae band, he told me, was working on so many things outside his job at the deli.

I gave him a gold star. He was thrilled.

"Wow, I haven't been given a gold star since I was in grade school," he said.

I was cheered, not thinking the gold star was given outside the U.S., and he was obviously not from here. He was from the Carribbean, he said, and there, "they gave out gold stars, and silver!"

Today, I received an e-mail from my new friend, telling me he was a poet as well as a musician, sharing with me amazing heartfelt words, a window into his inner self. My favorite line played off a theme I just was discussing yesterday with a Greek friend, the idea that the foundations of this country, because of rather than in spite of its idealism, present a bit of a bait and switch. If I may borrow his line, pay homage to his efforts: "For some reason I feel like a slave in the land of the free and the home of the brave."

We are told, so often, that we are free to do what we want and by so many cultural standards we are. But some days, it is still hard. Despite what you put on, despite how prepared you try to be, despite even your successes, it is still a struggle.

To borrow again, from today's yoga instructor, from a friend's earlier e-mail, from a favorite song lyric refrain, JUST BREATHE! And, of course, don't forget to notice those around you...

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