“Table for One”

Title in quotes because I didn’t name this beautiful picture; nor did I possibly leave boot prints in muddy puddles, or quiet sandal steps along stone pathways, to sneak up on this flower and its momentary inhabitant. That glorious moment belonged to my wonderful friend. A dear person. The kind of behind the lens, shy, keenly aware human being all of us should have in our emotional back pocket.

She has a name – one I didn’t ask permission to use. In addition, I will not splay words of adulation upon this page – although they would be appropriate. To simply mention her support and encouragement will suffice.

What cannot be unnoticed, and necessarily witnessed by simply being next to the pictures like what’s above, is her eye for nature’s beauty. I’ve seen the sun splendidly spectacular, trees triumph, and water massage thousand years old rocks – through her lens. The lens of a camera phone btw.

In the course of a work day, perhaps, or a leisurely walk, she finds moments to see what few of us see. Hundreds upon hundreds – possibly over a thousand – captured frames we’d never know if she didn’t stop to let us in. Allowing us the opportunity to bee, yes “bee one with nature” …

… and then it’s no longer a “Table for One”, is it?

We’re at the table together. A not so subtle reminder as August of 2020 winds down into the early fall months. Exactly two-thirds of an extraordinarily un-bee-lievable year melted into our memories with so many unknown experiences yet ahead.

Everything seems so un-natural. Words, tossed about from people we’re finding difficult to trust, are not the same anymore. Cloth that was beautifully sewn into dresses and ties is now muffling “I love you’s” being spoken by those making that masking decision – which is another American divide. Science is at odds with opinion, and numbers are no longer stern – they are malleable and flexible to the moment.

Yes, it seems un-natural. Through our human lens, anyway. What appears to bee isn’t always that way. If we step back, as my picture-esque friend does “quite finely”, nature gives us time to see what she sees: a bee on a flower. Simple.

Bees collect pollen, a source of protein they feed to their offspring. Also, I believe the hair on their bodies collects the pollen as well which, in turn, helps pollinate the earth. (I may know more music than biology, Mozart than mud, but I think I have that right?). See, our wonderful world has a plan for everything.

We’re just the goofballs messing it all up. The party crashers at the table, as it were. It’s estimated 50% of all the wildlife is extinct now … and we are in the 6th Extinction event as I type. Who knew? I certainly didn’t until I became a bit more educated and less dependent on single-use plastic bags. Half to eighty-five percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from phytoplankton in the ocean and it’s in trouble. Over-population is destroying natural habitats. We eat way too much food to sustain the land necessary for cultivation … on and on it goes. This is from a guy who … well …

I’m not a nature walker. Far from it. My best day would be to sit at my desk with one hand knuckles deep in a bowl of dry cereal with the other controlling a mouse. I do appreciate nice things in front of my peepers when I go outside, however, and I want them to stay that way. I want a blue sky, lush green grass, and clean, healthy air.

My life is like 2020. Roughly two-thirds over – if actuarial tables are correct and no speeding bus is headed my way soon. Comparatively speaking, both have had ups and downs. Maybe you’re right there with me in age? Perhaps not.

Whatever the case, you’re doing all the right things and I’m glad to introduce you to my friend’s world of pictorial pleasures. She’s pretty shy, so I don’t know if I’ll have the delight in sharing more of her colorful imagery with all of you in the future.

Knowing her as I do – and since we’re all in this together – she’ll graciously welcome us at her table if I ask. That’s how she rolls.

For now, on this very early Sunday morning in August, I’ll be content knowing another day is ahead for us to look through our lenses to see what my fabulous friend sees. When a flower appears, stop … if only for a second. You may witness a small miracle nature has been creating every day for 4.5 billion years. Bee-lieve me, we don’t want to lose sight of it.

My dear friend is making sure we don’t.

Space in the Spice Aisle

“The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”

JOHN F. KENNEDY, speech at Rice University, September 12, 1962

It’s time to give our 35th President some skin … a high five, if you will. On this first Saturday in May, fifty-eight years after those famous words were spoken, he deserves prophetic props for rolling a crystal ball down bowling alleys of special-spacial circumstances. The exploration of space he saw coming – and for that, Mr. President, I salute you.

It has become a race for space. Specifically, a tiny little hometown market space by that same name in my quaint growing-up ‘burg. This county seat of approximately 5,700 shuffling day-to-day, non-city folk who weave in and about a few remaining retail stores, pharmacies, and restaurants. A nice area where a future spring found its way into our Slinky hearts in 1943 and America’s oldest foundry is still operating. A nestled in-between community I find myself revisiting frequently as a customer during this shutdown time of social distancing.

Roughly twice a week, I get the call. “Need some stuff”, is the usual request from my father who jovingly asks for my assistance, which I am more than happy to give. He is, thankfully, not entertaining the idea of crunching his way around the cereal aisle looking for granola, or considering squeezing melons near grandmas in fear of the ‘rona. I admire his willingness to go beyond the stubbornness I know he owns. So, the call comes ding-a-linginging across to my already busy Samsung … and I answer. Every time. Glad to.

It’s almost always the same dozen or so dairy, snacky, and bready things I need to buy for him from the “Hometown Market”. Yes, that’s the name. A quaint name in the quaint town called Hollidaysburg. This small brick grocery sits one block off a two lane by-pass in a small neighborhood space where most have walk-to-or-by access. The parking lot is on a slant, so the carts have an attitude. In and out, empty and full, these wirey, meshy ne’er-do-wells are in constant cage-match mode … knowing gravity pulls favor to their corner at every turn – provided, of course, all the wheels rotate in sinc and don’t klunk and wobble.

Inside is a wonderful elbowy space. Aisle (pardon the pun, couldn’t resist) need to admit the jamminess is more than your typical box store. It is, of course, SmallTown, USA, for a reason. My fellow air-breathers walk about, on any unrestricted day, laughing and touching … smiling and feeling … piling high their hungry carts with goodies from the shortened, narrow spaces inside this small mart. Products lining the shelves insist on having personal, intimate interactions as walker-bys don’t initate contact. Advil wants to know where you went drinking last night, the bananas are fruitlessly a-peeling for compassion, and soup can d-rivel on and on … it is a small, therapy-inducing echo chamber at times.

These are restricted times, however. Special-spacial circumstances. One particular day, for dad, I found myself firmly planted, masked, in the “mist” of it all. Fogged up and as confused as the nice gentleman I found myself next to. Two dudes, two brains, two registers open, and two carts with no concept of time, distance, reality, … or space.

NASA, we had a problem.

Both he and I felt confident we navigated our way through the store quite well. It was an unspoken, eye-nod only guys have at the end of a successful wife or dad mandated grocery list errand run. We knew it. The tape 6-feet on the floor, however, gave us immediate pause and dampened any celebratory, non-verbal bro-mancing. See, there’s only about a cart length plus a body between the end of the register line to the end of the product aisle. Not enough space for two “just met masked dudes” unless one of us jumped on the other’s Oreos. Furthermore, neither of us knew for sure which of the two registers was open, or, what tape on the floor was applicable to which one of us. The ugliness of the moment was upon us. Two stars circling the grocery store black hole of social distancing with absolutely no idea how to proceed. The idea of “what to do” was clear – to management. For us, not so much. So we did the only thing we knew. Shrugged our burdened shoulders …. and laughed.

We didn’t see our smiles. Didn’t have to. We knew the moment required calm because what else was there? Stuckiness of the moment required our inner silence to maintain the frustration while our outer voices expressed our joy of the moment. I’d love to quote the conversation, but it happened a week or so ago and “I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday and I eat the same thing every morning”, so …. (that’s my dad’s favorite saying, btw…). Really, though, the words aren’t as important as the message, right?

Space is important right now. It IS one of the great adventures of all time. JFK didn’t know how right he was almost 60 years ago. The quote starting my sunny Saturday morning blog said a lot. Re-read it. There’s so much more to unpack about leadership, vision, national pride, and adventure. It would do us all a great service to heed #35’s words and start paying attention to our individual and collective spaces again. Small, quaint hovels or large cities, we are a “pale, blue dot” in the biggest space of all, according to Carl Sagan.

The next time you find yourself masking your smile heading to a small space, remember there’s bound to be another doing exactly the same thing. You will meet. You will bump carts and be awkward together. Take that moment to laugh. It’s all we have in the space we share. Together.