After dropping my daughter off at work, I drive over to the new Atomic Cafe in Beverly, Massachusetts, under the guise of checking out their expanded, new location.
The truth is that the Atomic in Marblehead makes the best iced soy lattes in the entire world and I have thirty pages left to the book I’ve been reading and the sun is shining but it isn’t too hot, so really, I am not as interested in the new digs as I am in spending an hour reading outside with my favorite coffee in hand.
I am loving the beat of the sun against my neck as I read this intense, beautiful autobiographical novel by writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, when I’m pulled out of the story by the scolding voice of a young woman. She loudly berates an older man, who is trying to keep up with her rapid pace, and says to him, “Why would you lend her $2 thousand dollars? What would make you do that?” Her eyes and inflection and the hyped up way she moves makes me think she is high but she may be extremely over-caffeinated or mentally troubled. Either way, the man, unshaven and wearing worn clothing, with eyes focused on the pavement as he walks, looks up at her and says sadly, “I have a big heart, I guess.” She stops, stares him down, and then starts walking away even faster, shouting something to him that I don’t understand, now that they are further down the road.
Meanwhile, two women, clearly mother and grown daughter, rise from the table in front of me with no sign that they observed the passing scene, They chat a moment longer then hug and separate. I go back to my reading.
A breeze arrives at the exact moment the heat begins to bother me, so I sit back comfortably and continue reading. I’m barely aware of the cars that race by and the people who pass on the sidewalk. Nobody sits at the open table next to mine. I put my feet up on the seat across from me and realize I have lost concentration again and need to reread the paragraph in front of me. Which I do, followed by several more until . . .
two young mothers, a few tables away, raise their voices as one says, “And she says to him, well, I am pregnant with twins. That’s something,” and the other says, “No way. Good for her. I can’t believe he said that to her,” and I’m distracted again, wondering what inflammatory thing the pregnant woman’s husband said to her.
When I turn back to my book, I can’t help but smile at the words before me:
“When everything I saw, even a rusty, crooked rotary dryer in a back garden, even rotten apples on the ground beneath a tree, even a boat wrapped in a tarpaulin, with the wet bow protruding and the yellow, flattened grass beneath, was ablaze with beauty.”
I spend a lot of time alone, which I love, but it sometimes leads me to lose sight of all of the life that goes on out of my view. Seated outside at the cafe, I suddenly am aware of the sights and sounds and sensations of this pulsing world that is both the same and different from what lives inside me as memory and thought and imagination.
The realness of these people, of the weather, of the taste of this coffee is, despite it’s mundaneness, ablaze with beauty. In this moment. From where I currently sit.
We miss a lot as we hurriedly go about our days, doing our work, playing our roles, obsessing about our problems, indulging in our fantasies. Perspective rarely appears during routine moments, which for many of us make up our days and years and lives.
When I was a child, we were always told to stop, look and listen; I don’t recall the specific circumstances when those words were pounded into our little heads, but I now see where their value lies.
When we stop, look, and listen, we have a chance to recognize that we are part of something bigger, something that contains people and places and things that are not ours but become a part of us by the nature of our being in their presence.
(I’m including this video of Joni Mitchell singing The Circle Game, because it was what I found myself singing on the car ride home from the cafe. It is apropos of the moment and I love the short anecdote she tells before she sings. I hope you listen and enjoy.)
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