Perhaps it's something in the weather or the water.
Perhaps it's just a stage of this life I'm living.
Whatever the cause, I've found myself becoming caught up in the tiny details of other people's lives - details so ordinary, so small, that I'd never thought to notice them before now.
I am frequently reminded that other people aren't like me. This is a fact that I have always acknowledged, but which is being impressed upon me more clearly. Each person is a beautifully unique individual. They're different...and that is exciting.
A few recent happenings have added fresh aspects to my understanding of other people. Maybe, through letting go of some of my pride and stepping outside of my own personality in order to create fictional characters, I've become a better observer. Or maybe I've just become better at taking people at face value.
A friend and I sat in the dappled shade of the front patio, discussing church, Christianity, Sunday school, doctrine. She spoke excitedly about being involved in children's ministry. She told stories about the children in her church, about how she enjoyed teaching them. Her face glowed with the fulfillment that welled up inside of her, and I suddenly realized that she loves children.
If you'd asked, I'd have told you that she loves children, but inside, I'd always thought that she loves them because. 'She loves them because she understands them', I thought, 'or she loves them because they listen to her. Could be, she loves them because she's good at dealing with them, or maybe she loves them because other people expect her to love them.'
All wrong. She just loves children. She doesn't need a reason, because she has a love. Love first, reason afterward.
There I sat, listening with only half an ear as I absorbed the awe of something I could not understand. Of course, I love children, but I love them because they're human, and cute, and funny. I love them because they amuse me. I don't simply love them because they are children. But she does, and I think that her love, though I can not understand it, is very beautiful.
I've realized that my mother needs communication. Communication is one of the ways in which she gives and receives love. When she wants to show that she cares about you, she meets your physical needs, and then she talks to you.
I am not a communicator. I can and do communicate when I perceive a need, but I struggle mightily with chit-chat.
"What did you do at work today?" she always asks.
I don't want to talk. I'm tired, I'm hungry, and I feel no need to re-hash my day. I have not prepared myself to meet this question with equanimity. I concentrate on controlling the quick flash of irrational irritation, and momentarily forget everything I did at work. I stare blankly into her expectant face as my mind scrambles to recall the last thing I did. "Umm, well, I picked tomatoes."
"No, I did some other stuff, too." Now I'm feeling defensive and anxious.
'Why does she need to know what I did at work? It's not like I did anything important.' I look into her face again, and see hurt in her eyes. I search desperately for some more information.
"And, uh, let's see. Oh yeah! I also cultivated the cabbages." Hoping that I didn't seem too brusque, I scurry quickly away to avoid further conversation.
I am the listener, content to take the information others choose to give me, showing love in silence, or a handful of words. My mother is the talker, always seeking to know more, to express concern through an endeavor to comprehend. She asks me about the people I've met. She asks how old they are, what they're studying in college, where they live - and I never know the answers because those are questions I rarely think to ask, or, if I ask, I almost never remember the answers.
I remember other things. I remember how beautifully he could quote poetry, or that her speech patterns are the same as her brother's. I remember the tremor in his voice when he talked about his doubts, or the way her eyes could never quite meet mine. But education? Age? Not a chance.
My mother and I are both tuned in to people, but in very different ways. I am just beginning to fully appreciate her way. I appreciate the way she invites people in, the way she draws them out, her ability to speak about the small, non-threatening things that put others at their ease. Perhaps I am learning, gradually, how to meet her on her own ground and talk about the 'unimportant' things that are of such great importance to her.
I think that, for me, life will always be a series of revelations and surprises - a collection of glimpses into the workings of heart and mind. Some of these peeks and snatches may be strung together to form an increasingly complete picture.
Other fragments will remain forever disconnected.
The woman in the shop who so delighted me by addressing her friend as 'ducky' (I thought they only did such things in antiquated British novels).
The man in the doughnut store who reminded me so strongly of an Irish wolfhound (I think he might end up in a story someday).
The dark, sullen girl I only saw twice (but think of often).
The dancer, whose contagious, energetic joy I managed to capture with my camera (it's one of my favorite photos).
Their stories - incomplete but compelling - add a certain charm to life.
And the others? The family and friends whose lives entwine with my own? I thank God for showing me how to become a better part of their stories, and for allowing the wonder of their lives to enrich mine.