Tuesday, July 29, 2014

So many new faces - and a few repeats

I love watching people. At airports. At the supermarket. In church. At the beach.
Last week, on Hilton Head Island, I did a lot of people watching.
Perched comfortably in my chair, I watched parents play with, scold, feed, and dig holes with their children.
I watched couples rub sunscreen on each other's backs.
I watched young men and old women drink beer after beer after beer.
I watched pot-bellied men read the newspaper while being seared by the sun.
I watched children run and jump onto skimmers and nearly break their backs trying to stay upright.

I watched people throwing footballs, kicking soccer balls, and flying kites.
I watched children feed the flotilla of turtles in the small pond at the entrance to the walkway to the beach. 

I watched too many people ask the lifeguards for the spray that you use after getting stung by a jellyfish.
I watched and watched and wondered.

What brought all these people here to this island this week?
Why this week and not some other week?
Where are they from?
How long are they here?
Will they sleep well tonight in their hotel rooms or rental homes?
Are they worried about how they will pay for all this?
Where did she get that bathing suit?
With that deep sunburn, isn't he afraid of getting skin kanswer?

How many of them have had kanswer?
How many of them have watched their loved one deal with illness?
Have any of them lost someone recently?
Are they happy? Are they at peace?
Do they feel loved? Are they in love?

The best part of people watching for me this week was seeing the same people more than once. 
There was one family with five kids, three teenaged daughters and two younger sons. The parents ran with them down to the water and sat with them in their chairs. They talked and laughed and played games. They appeared to be a happy and contented family. The photo below is them leaving - Dad in front, kids and wife following.

There was another family with three young children, the oldest one not more than 7 years old. The youngest was a little red-headed girl with the cutest pink and white "rash guard" tee shirt that she wore every day. They too appeared to be having a great time together. I saw that family two or three days in a row, then on the final day, we arrived at the beach at the same time, so I had to take another photo as we followed them onto the sand. How cute is that little redhead?

I took this one the day before as she left with her family.

There was a couple, a woman who appeared to be Indian and her white male companion. (Of course, I would notice the interracial couple...) They set up a rather elaborate looking tent contraption one morning, and then promptly left with their dog. They returned a couple of hours later - without the dog - and sat under that tent until after we left at 5 pm. They looked like they were enjoying each other's company very much, laughing and drinking and feeding each other crackers with hummus (yes, I was watching closely enough to see exactly what they were eating. They had the same pretzel thin crackers that I had!) Unfortunately, he was smoking one of those ridiculous e-cigarettes. 

My favorite people to watch - and sneak photos of - were the older couples. The ones who seem like they had been together for years and knew each other's needs and preferences without seeming to ask out loud. This couple below was very friendly and inquisitive. Every now and then, he would go off on a bike ride or a walk to the water. She sat and watched and dug her toes into the sand and made conversation with me. So kind.

The woman in the photo below, in the near chair, looked like she was frail, weak, perhaps even suffering with an illness. Her husband also went off on bike rides during the day and then they left together for a while. I assume they went for lunch and a nap. After they returned, they sat and stared out at the water for a long time. I didn't even realize they were holding hands until I looked at this photo days after taking it.

As I watched these two older couples interact, I wondered: what do they think when they look at all these young families with children? Do they remember beach vacations with their own little ones? Or perhaps they never had children and wish they had or are glad they never had any. I wondered if they cared what people thought of their thighs and their abs and the shape of their biceps - like those of us who still are foolish enough to think those things matter. When they sat there holding hands in quietness and tenderness, do they wonder if they will ever be back at the beach together again? Maybe they aren't married and are here as recently discovered love interests. 

I let my mind wander in all kinds of directions during my many hours of scoping out my vacation mates. I am never bored with my thoughts or my imagination - especially when I am people-watching.

Nearly everyone looked happy at the beach, like they were enjoying the bright sunshine and warm water, the food and drinks they had brought with them and the relaxed atmosphere. All the while, I wondered - are they really happy? Will they yell and scream at each other later when no one else is around? Will they return to a peaceful or a chaotic household? Are they afraid for their future and for the future of our planet? Are they thinking about or praying for someone they know that is gravely ill or out of work or struggling with an addiction? Are they worried about how they will pay for this vacation? I suppose we all can answer "yes" to all of those questions at one point in our lives, perhaps every week, or even as frequently as every day.

One of my spiritual practices is this - when I see someone more than once, I pray for them. I figure that if God wanted me to see them several times and notice that I had seen them several times, then there must be a reason for it. So I prayed for those families, those couples, those singles, for the lifeguards too - for safe travels back home, for peace, for love, for health, and for happiness. And as often as they come to mind, I will lift them in prayer. I don't need to know what their needs are. I am honored to be able to lift them before the throne of grace and mercy so that they too can find help in their times of need. We all need allies and companions on this journey of life, even if we don't know their names, their stories, or their particular circumstances. 

I confess that I wonder if any of them remember seeing me more than once. I wonder if they took any surreptitious photos of me in my chair, reading, journaling, eating cherries and pretzel crackers and my newest sandwich combination - freshly ground almond butter and a sliced banana on multigrain bread. Delicious and nutritious! 

So many new faces - and a few repeats. So many stories. So much pain. So much joy. So much abundance. So much beauty. So much suffering. So much heartbreak. So many choices and providential occurences and outright miracles that brought us to that place last week for a few shared days down by the sea. I am grateful for every face I saw and every life whose path I crossed. 

I wish them all well as they transition back into whatever their lives may be and may bring. 
I wish them fond beach vacation memories. Especially that adorable little redheaded girl. 

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