Today I was a spectator. I observed what most of us know well– life is full of hard and beautiful and interesting scenarios. We don’t usually see all of those scenarios in one day, but today I forced myself to sit back and just take them all in.
From the moms at a playdate who bonded over their painful struggles with mentally ill parents to the coming-together of neighbors and families to commemorate a historic life and place, my day couldn’t have been much fuller. Even though I have nothing to do with our neighbor’s historic home and cannot even imagine what it would be like to have parents with borderline personality disorders, I was invited in to these peoples’ stories.
If you’ve listened to many motivational talks, sermons, etc., I’m sure you’ve heard the cliched metaphor about joining in the game of life (i.e. “Are you going to sit on the sidelines and be a spectator of life, or are you going to play the game?”). The spectator role, it seems, is not the preferred one and is not what we should be aiming for. But as I was tucking in my girls tonight, thinking of all I’d witnessed today, it dawned on me how very much a part of it all I felt despite my periphery role.
And I thought about what an important role spectators play. What would a football game be without fans in the stands? And what would a child’s first piano recital be without proud parents watching? And how hollow would the world seem if every person was always in the middle of the action but no one was stopping to observe the beauty in others? Or the pain?
I think that’s why I appreciate artists so much. They stop and observe. And then I get to see all the side stories–the ones that don’t make the nightly news– in paintings and songs and poems.
Our neighbors’ home was “plaqued” today (not to be confused with a dangerous plague or vandalism– they actually had the local Historical Society present a plaque which will hang on their front porch). They had a little gathering, complete with appetizers, wine and a pound cake from a 100-year-old recipe, in which a little ceremony of sorts took place. Since their home belonged to a locally famous historian and writer, Hannah Ditzler, they had an entire scrapbook about her and even some of her distant descendants attended. The gentleman from the Heritage Society was remarking how Hannah’s detailed diaries give us a picture of what life in Naperville Illinois was like in the late 19th-century, and her detailed sketches of the home are remarkable.
Standing in this small, warm crowd of people who were simply celebrating the fact that someone took the time to observe life in Naperville in the 1800s made me pause. Even though I like to think that, with the many bloggers and journal-keepers out there today, we will have more than enough written records for future generations, I also wonder how much we take the time to observe what’s really going on around us.
Not feeling benevolent enough to observe for the world’s sake? Well, it benefits you too. Observing others’ stories takes us out of our own heads for a moment. Truthfully, I haven’t been blogging much lately because I’ve been working on more fiction writing. Both reading and writing fiction is comforting to me because it takes me out of my own world with all its little problems. I get to live vicariously through elephant trainers in the 1920s and teenage fugitives in future societies. But there was something a little more powerful– or at least more real– about being drawn in to the stories of actual people around me today. I felt like I was contributing to their story just by being there with them.
It made me think about how the next time I’m feeling insignificant sitting on the sidelines, I am a significant spectator.