November 2013

The lost art of noticing – Part 1

by Steve Brock on November 29, 2013

Seeing with your eyes

I’m accompanying my wife to her doctor’s appointment. After we sit down in the waiting area, my wife leans over and excitedly whispers to me.

“Did you see that?” she says.

“See what?” I reply.

“That woman!” Now keep in mind we’re in a fairly full waiting area where I’m about the only male.

“The woman?” I ask.

“Yes!” as if this offers a complete explanation.

“What woman?”

“The one when we came in.”

“The one that was smiling at me?”

“She was smiling at you?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” she says in a tone that implies that women smiling at her husband is an unusual thing. OK, maybe it is, but she doesn’t have to make a big deal about it.

“Because of her kid.”

“What?!”

“She was smiling at me because I was smiling at her little girl who almost ran into me.”

“What little girl?”

“The one with the woman. The smiling woman. With the little kid.” The line between amusement and impatience is a fine one.

“That’s not the woman.”

“That’s the woman I saw.”

“No. That’s not the woman.”

“OK, then what woman is it?”

“You didn’t see her?” That aforementioned line narrows.

“Who?!”

“How could you miss her?”

“Who?!” Abbott and Costello got nothing on the two of us.

“The woman in the bright orange jumpsuit? With the handcuffs? With the two large male guards on each side of her? That woman?”

“I didn’t see her,” I admit, taken aback by the fact.

“How could you not see her?” I shrug at her unanswerable question.

“You didn’t see the handcuffs?”

“Uh uh.”

“Or the guards?”

“Nope”

“You didn’t see her turn and sweetly say “Thanks for all your help” to the receptionist as they walked her out?” Another shrug by me accompanied by a sheepish raised-eyebrow look of apology for my apparent blindness.

“Unbelievable,” she says.

“Unbelievable,” I say but for reasons that are likely as different as the two women we each witnessed.

 *******

 “How could you not have seen her?” How indeed. How can we go through life and miss so much around us? This might be a humorous incident if it was rare. But it happens all the time. And not just to me.

If you’ve been reading The Meaningful Traveler for any length of time, you’ll recognize this as a familiar theme. Presence. Paying attention. Noticing. Being open. They all seem to matter a great deal to a successful, fulfilling trip or even a meaningful life.

So why are we so bad at paying attention?

I’m sure there are numerous reasons and I’d love to hear yours. But here are two to get started.

First, you can’t pay attention to everything around you or your poor little brain would do an exploding number like Krakatoa.

Second, we forget because we’re not motivated to do so. We’ve got too many other things on our minds. But next time, I will share with you a recent discovery that has changed my own thinking about noticing and paying attention and the value of it. It works really well.

Except, perhaps when it comes to female inmates being escorted through doctor’s offices…

To be continued…

 

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Coincidental travel

by Steve Brock on November 21, 2013

When you step onto a plane, you never know who will be sitting next to you. Unless you’re traveling in a large party together, it is purely a matter of chance as to who sits next to you. Or is it?

Airplane Seats

I’m on a business trip, on a plane in the exit aisle seat. Next to me in the center seat is a man I noticed as he boarded. Everything about him seems precise and intentional: neatly clipped beard and hair, tanned skin, burgundy leather jacket, blue – bright blue – pants. Flamboyant is too strong a word, but what is the right term for his impeccable look?

After we take off, he talks to his friend in the window seat. Periodically, he speaks across the aisle and up one row to two young boys. After that, he periodically checks across the aisle to make sure they are eating the food he’d apparently provided for them.

I’m busy working, so I don’t pay much attention to the two guys sitting next to me. Instead, I make a quick judgment call: Two guys, both well-groomed and dressed and now two kids? I assume they are partners who have adopted these two boys.

Then I overhear them mention something about creating a devotional. Devotional?

One of the boys eventually comes over complaining about the lack of food choices. The guy next to me explains that he has nothing else for the boy and then comes another surprise: He tells the boy to go ask his mother. Off the boy trots up toward the front of the plane.

I’m definitely curious about this situation now, so I put aside my computer and the work I’d been doing and engage my neighbor more intentionally beyond brief comments about kids and picky eaters. We move through a range of subjects and I find out that my well-dressed new friend is a pastor. But not your typical one.

He started as an actor – theatrical! that was the word I was thinking about his outfit, but in a stylish way like a celebrity – on Broadway and then he got into the ministry. Most recently he produced a rock/rap version of The Passion in Jerusalem. Now he travels and preaches across the US. A fascinating person.

We have a wonderful conversation exploring issues of faith, meaningful travel and life in general. As the plane begins to land, we tell each other how much we’ve enjoyed talking to each other. He informs me that he’d given his upgraded seat in first class to his wife (wise move!) and had dreaded having to sit in a center seat. And then he shares a question to explain his delight in being stuck in that particular seat and all that we learned from each other in our conversation.

“Do you know that in the ancient Hebrew and even ancient Aramaic, there is no word for ‘coincidence’?”

As we swap business cards in the hope of some day reconnecting, I think about what his words mean.

If everything is God’s then things like where we are and who we meet don’t happen by accident. Even when we make wrong assumptions (as I did) or think something will turn out worse than it does (as he did), God has a way of bringing together exactly what we need when and where we need it but often in the most unusual of ways.

So next time you experience an encounter on a trip that you think of as chance or coincidence, well, you might just want to think again.

 

 

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It’s a smaller world – Part 3

by Alan Noble on November 5, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the final of three parts written by my friend Alan Noble on his experience of living in Nairobi, Kenya after the Westgate Mall attack there in September.

Westgate Mall, NairobiLast time we considered how advances in travel and technology have enabled many amazing opportunities in our world to grow closer together. But advances have also resulted in bringing the unfiltered mayhem into our experience, often live and in colour. Not only has this been described as progress, it seems to be implied that this also is true information democracy, part of the complex, changing, and smaller world in which we live.

No more apparent is this complexity than in Nairobi, where the recent Westgate Mall attack has brought this to the fore. In short order, the relatively safe place we had come to know actually now resembled the place that had been described to us when we first moved here: insecure, unsafe, with rampant corruption.

These three descriptors underline our new experience, and were evidenced at the Mall. There are guards all across this country. Day and night, at practically every gate, they are there. It gives a certain measure of confidence. Yet, we know that while they stand, sit or patrol, they do so without anything more than a club. They do not have guns. Bad guys have guns, our guards do not. So, you see, it gives us a measure of confidence—but not a lot. Safety and security are lacking.

Westgate Mall, NairobiAnd then the corruption. It was plain to see at the mall. News outlets have reported that the gunshots we heard during the last few days of the siege were in fact the defense forces shooting the locks off the safes to steal from them. Corruption beyond belief.

So, what does this mean to us living here? Not surprisingly, this event has transformed the way I look at safety and security, and how we now live. It has effectively enforced upon us boundaries that were previously not apparent, though subtly imposed. We could pretty much come and go as we pleased during the day, while at night we’d be more aware and cautious.

Presently, though I don’t feel unsafe, I am aware that our former boundaries no longer suit our circumstances. Instead, we are now held to boundaries within which we actively acknowledge the limitations and recognise the risks. We are on our own. If there is a fire, like recently at the main international airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, there is little expectation that fire brigades will come to the rescue. If there are robbers, we have been told, unless someone is dead, the police will not respond. It is within this revised set of expectations and realities that I am painfully aware that life has changed. Not necessarily because the events happened, but because now the limitations have now been revealed.

Melancholy though this may sound, it is not in fact how I live. There are many places in the world that are far better—and I’ve lived in some. But there are also places that are far worse, and I’ve been to some as well. We indeed live in a smaller world. Advances around us have provided opportunities beyond our imagination. Access to information and distant lands are moments or short hours away.

Technology and travel make it easier to connect with both the good and the bad around us. Living here in a different country at a time of great tragedy has made both the positives and the negatives of our increasingly small world more apparent. But it also makes our own personal choices clearer: Will we choose to trust God and live in the positive, or give into the despair and baser instincts fostered by the mis-use of technology and travel? It may not be easy, but for me and my family, we will choose the former. How about you?

Read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t yet…

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