(Tales from Wal-mart Series)
OBSERVE – verb: “notice or perceive (something) and register it as being significant” — synonyms – notice, see, perceive, note, discern, detect, spot
Stories are unfolding every day. All around us. Even at Wal-mart. Especially at Wal-mart. For most of us we can’t hit the pause button on our story while we run in the store to restock our fridge or pick up a gift or prescription. We drag our stories along with us. Quietly tucked away inside our hearts and heads.
Or not so quiet, at times spilling out in body language or in loud words. Sadly, we’ve all heard pieces of stories from three aisles over.
Sometimes I pass people in an aisle at Wal-mart and you can just tell. A big story is happening.
The maiden voyage to Wal-mart in our new town in Kansas is one I won’t forget. My job as mom had not changed, although the landscape had, and my family still needed to eat and wash their hair. So the second night in our new home I set out for a few essentials to get us going. Emotional and physical exhaustion was the story I hauled like a stinking garbage bag with me through the sliding glass doors.
It was oddly surreal to be in Wal-Mart that night. It felt familiar, yet things were arranged differently and I couldn’t find things in their normal spot. And those faces. Not one face was familiar.
I remember being in the aisle of sodas when the magnitude of our move from one state to another hit full force. The act of shopping, which I had done thousands of times before, in this place that was the same yet different, flipped the switch in my heart.
I remember looking around and thinking if I have a mental breakdown right here, who cares because…nobody. knows. me.
So I shopped through blurred vision and a lump the size of a softball in my throat, feeling the need for a big vulnerable sign to hang around my neck. “I’m the new girl! Will you be friend?”
I believe that if just one person had made eye contact with me and smiled, I probably would have dissolved into a puddle of gratitude, grabbed their hand and asked them to go get coffee.
Thank goodness in the eight years since that happened, I’ve made more than a few friends and now I can’t walk in those same doors without seeing someone I know.
Remembering that experience though, has led me out of my comfort zone more than a few times. To give a smile that says…I’m willing to stop and hear your story. To slow down and observe.
I have this running joke about myself. I say that I would make the perfect spy because people seem not to remember meeting me. Or think I’m someone else. Or think they’ve met me but haven’t.
This used to hurt my feelings. But I’ve come to believe that people, in general, just aren’t really observant. We are multi-tasked to death and distracted and tired.
We aren’t detecting, observing, seeing, discerning, perceiving all the extraordinary stories that are going on around us in ordinary life. We are so wrapped up in our own story that we don’t invite others in nor ask permission to join theirs.
Jesus was the perfect observer. He was constantly noticing people and joining their stories. He could be in the middle of a crowd yet detect a hurting woman who touched his hem. He could be hot and exhausted yet see the woman at the well. He could be walking toward “important people” at the temple and notice crippled and blind beggars. He observed the children and even a man perched in the treetops. In all these instances, he got involved in stories in the ordinary places of life.
My necessary trips to Wal-mart are slowly teaching me that love means choosing to be aware of the stories going on all around. I’m learning that there is something special in simply being noticed.