Just before heading home, the weather has turned brisk. After a few days of matter-of-factly moving through time, I am hit with a wave of longing and reflection. It is natural, and means that what I’m leaving has been treasured and held with delight.
Now to decide whether to try to see an exhibit, or to continue open-endedly what I began a few days ago and continued this morning – rambling through Central Park.
I began my practice of concentrated people watching during my first trip to Japan, when noticing an older couple negotiate comfort during a four hour delay. Something in the way the gentleman nested for his wife struck me… the way he scoped out the room for their seats and set down their things meticulously so she didn’t have to worry. Their manners were so gentle, and at the time I thought it cultural; they were a Japanese couple and the non-intrusiveness they exuded was particular. They sat next to me, cooing softly without defensiveness, a sweet song… the tune of which I picked up on without distraction, not understanding Japanese.
Though sweet for them, it was a bittersweet melody in me, an encounter that left me marinating in melancholy, slowly brooding over something missing.
I continued this habit, post-Japan, and now have a few regulars I encounter from time to time, like the couple at my current favorite cafe’, who arrive weekly like clockwork, and give the impression that the rest of us are in an extension of their private home… so easy together. They read for a while, then she usually takes a little walk; he reads the papers and she returns to check on him occasionally, without pressure. They seem to be freed by their ritual, as though they have struck the perfect bargain.
These two remind me a little of a couple encountered a few years ago, while a friend and I sat in companionable quiet on benches in New Orleans. It was not quite time for our group retreat to begin, so she worked on music homework and I turned to my journal, writing down as much as I could possibly take in about the environment: the music in the background (“Imagine”), weather (cool, bright), interesting characters (child chasing after a single leaf). This couple was not as elegant as were/are the other two I’ve mentioned, in fact there was some palpable tension as he grumbled about this and that, but, after they’d been sitting together a while she stood up and looked down at him, saying simply with a kind smile before she walked away, “I do hope when I return you’ll be in a better mood.” I appreciated the long view she took, and her light humor. I saw it as a loving gesture to give leeway … not leave as a punishment, yet still care for her own experience.