I am on the trail again. Chief among the wonders I found here is a woman parked at the same picnic table every morning. The table is pressed to the water’s edge with two trees towering on either side it. The trees hold the promise of autumn; leaking color into their tips before the great fall begins. This woman sits, every day, at the water’s edge. Her hair is short and styled loosely, her clothing comfortable, her gaze consumed. Ink pressed to paper, her focus hangs low on the page beneath her eyes. She writes.
A few days ago, her corner of the park was populated with noise. A club of Moms, strollers, and infants gathered around an enthusiastic stout coach. They hung their bodies upside down on purpose, and fluttered around their screaming children. Ink pressed to paper, the woman’s focus hung low on the page beneath her eyes. She continued to write.
Yesterday, it was scorching hot. The sun beat down and told every living thing to find shade or go indoors. I passed the woman’s table on the trail and found her there with a sun hut on her head. It’s long yellow wings hung down around her determined face. Ink pressed to paper, her focus hung low on the page beneath her eyes. She sweat, and she continued to write.
Today it is raining. She has a bright red umbrella tied to the table. It is secured and “hands free.” Raindrops collapse around her, but her square foot of the world stays dry. The leafs overhead dump pools of water; she seems to be writing faster. Ink pressed to paper, her focus hangs low on the page beneath her eyes. She continues to write.
On the banks of a river trail, I found a writer. I don’t know what she writes, but it is not what she writes that makes her a writer, but rather her dedication to the art form. She does not have to look up to teach me. The power of her focus radiates from the back of her head.
Dedication to anything looks like something. It looks like sticking yourself like glue to that thing and doing it, every single day. Dedication is the vacuum that pulls our passions out of mid air and into a committed existence with us. What wild thing in your heart is waiting for dedication? What if you dedicated some time to it, starting today?
Ink pressed to paper, my focus hands low on the page beneath my eyes. I write.
My friend brought me to an apple orchard. I picked a lot of apples. I picked way too many apples. I picked so many apples that my plastic bags sagged as I fought to put them on the counter. Check out.
For two weeks my apples sat. They sat because I could not find time to sit with them. The following weekend came and I remembered them, returned to them, pulled those sagging bags of apples out because I knew ... some things are now or never.
I peeled so many apples my hands hurt. I put half of them in the crockpot overnight to make applesauce and the next morning they were burned. I put the other half in a pie shell with brown sugar and those came out perfect. How is it that sugar perfects things? Certain things.
Two bags of apples left.
Mitch and I walked the neighborhood and knocked on people's doors to offer them apples. We ended up at the table of an elderly couple that lives around the corner. They talked for a long time. They talked about appropriate things and inappropriate things; things we wanted to lean into, things we wished we could lean out of. They unloaded their stories as if our knock on their door pulled a long-standing gag out of their mouths.
In time we stood in the kitchen of our new friends and caught the tears of hearts unlocked. The right visit with the right words at the right time. They took our apples.
Where apples may lead.
I was taking a walk recently and saw a boy standing in his driveway blowing bubbles. He had brown knickers on and a shaggy blue shirt. He looked to be about six years old. His hair was dark and his eyes intent. Bubbles.
My sidewalk steps neared his bubble terrain and I noticed a faint sound of speaking coming from his mouth. His sense of personal space, some imaginary drama, was apparent and I obliged to cross the street and walk on the other side.
It was a kind gesture on my part, but not entirely sincere. I was actually quite curious what he was experiencing and feared that my nearness would squash it. I slowed down and leaned into his mumblings as I passed by. To my surprise, I found that he was talking to each and every bubble until it popped, and then he would start again.
Blow the bubble.
Forge a connection.
Let the bubble pop.
Have I ever seen someone so successfully living in the present? I mean, why forge a connection with a bubble that is going to pop? And why not blow a thousand bubbles all at once?
Living in the present - on display.
I have been very busy the last few months. Racing, chasing, pushing, striving, diving, cartwheeling - to get stuff done. This season, however, I want to stop and take a lesson from the boy with the bubbles. I am challenging myself to be present; forge a connection with whatever, whomever, is in front of me.
This is a my season’s greeting: The boy with the bubbles invites you to step out of the raw current of stress and engage in the moments of your life.
Friends, let's not let "busy" rob our joy or validate our excuses for misery. Let's determine to enjoy ourselves - one fleeting bubble at a time!
I met a man last week who grows purple peppers. His stand was located at the back corner of our local market. I was exiting when his sign caught my eye, "Homegrown Purple Peppers!" My posture perked up and I thought to myself, "I am about to see what I have never seen before!"
My eyes perused the scene for purple and then suddenly I realized that my excitement had drawn the eyes of another to me. Then we met. The farmer behind that stand and me. Simple eye contact was enough to know that we both value an invitation out of the ordinary; an invitation people were likely walking passed all day long.
This weathered man with his wrinkles, bright eyes and queer sign motioned me to his stand and I humbly obliged. He then pulled a basket out from under the table and said to me, "These are my darkest purple peppers, and these are for you."
I stared wide-eyed for a moment and then unashamedly made some loud and happy noise. Twisting those purple peppers in the air, I adored them like diamonds and then plopped them into my bag with a broad smile and satisfied sigh.
The man chuckled. Our eyes met again - as we realized that we had both just made a new friend.
Two grins. Departure.
When I got into my car afterwards my first thought was, “That interaction could not have happened online.” Odd thought? Perhaps … but its something I've been thinking about.
I heard about a man recently who was very lonely. As a result he decided that he was going to start choosing human interaction whenever it was his choice. This meant going into the bank teller instead of using the drive through ATM, shopping in person instead of online, stopping at the cash toll booth to look the person in the eye and say “hi,” … and so on.
In his own account, his feelings of isolation and loneliness began to dissipate. The interactions were not deep, meaningful, or profound. They were just interactions.
Face to face interactions with people breed something in our lives that cannot be fabricated any other way.
Food for thought.
Purple food – for thought.
I started taking the same walk around my neighborhood daily. In that routine, I am seeing a lot of the same people; finally building relationship with our neighbors. Joe has the most immaculate garden. Travis and Teresa sit on their deck and tell outrageous stories in thick Brooklyn accents. Fred sits and watches birds. John (who can barely walk) will be found stubbornly walking to the mailbox to get his own mail. Susan is a disguised sweet heart; key word - disguised.
But the person who has me most intrigued is Karen - the lady with the invisible fence.
I was walking down a residential street and stopped at the end of her driveway. She was sitting down the driveway on a chair next to her dog. I stepped forward to say hello,
"STOP!" She called out to me forcefully, "I have an invisible fence. If you cross it, my dog will attack you!"
I stood still and considered my options. Fairly simple; walk away or stand an inch from her invisible fence and keep talking. I chose the latter. Lifting my voice so it would carry down her driveway, I continued, "Oh, thanks for letting me know! I'm Katie, what's your name?"
She looked at me a bit cross, and then reluctantly responded, "Karen."
"Karen! That’s beautiful. I love that name."
I then proceeded to talk about our town and what I like about it, her tree and how I admire it, her big green house and how I wish I had it. Her gaze intensified as my attempted dialogue became an awkward monologue. I then ran out of things to say and therefore said - bye.
The next day I saw Karen again. I said "Hi" again, I stood at the edge of her invisible fence and talked nonsense - again. I ran out of things to say again, and so I said good-bye again.
The scene repeated for the next two days.
A few days later, I'm walking and I hear, "Hey there!" It's Karen. She was calling to me from her seat down the driveway. Delighted at her initiation, I stop next to her mailbox and we have our first dialogue.
Two weeks later, Karen starts to share her heart and life with me. I'm still standing at the end of her driveway; she's still sitting on the chair next to her dog. The conversation is literally carrying on from a twenty-foot distance.
And here's what I'm learning - respecting people's boundaries is really important. Its how we build trust. Whether it is someone as close as a spouse or as distant as a stranger, honoring people opens them up to receive love. Honor cannot be faked; it comes from an authentic respect that we feel in our hearts for the people we engage with.
People's boundaries are there for a reason; their self-protective madness is also there - for a reason. Think about it, if I were to assume access to Karen, she would feel violated and her dog would attack me! The easy solution is to not engage with her, but is that love? If she only gives me access from the end of her driveway and I refuse that place because I feel entitled to more - is that her fault?
We are not entitled to the hearts of people. Anytime we are given access, it is an honor.
Too often we think that breaking down someone's fence is a win, but is it? What if breaking down someone's fence is nothing more than breaking down his or her fence? Is the fence really the prize? Shattered fiberglass, is that what we're after?
Honor can melt barriers down leading to authentic invitations into the hearts of people. And that is where the prize is – in their hearts. I am aware in saying this that honor can be hard work. It requires time, patience, and sacrifice. Its not fun to hold a conversation with someone at their set distance of twenty-feet, but I also know that when you see the heart of a person begin to unlock authentically to you it makes the journey of respect you've taken feel more than worth it.
I learned this week about Karen's loss, about her home, a snapshot into her life - all from the end of her driveway. It felt like a huge win relationally. Maybe someday she'll invite me past her invisible fence, maybe not. Either way, trust is melting the emotional boundary and I'm watching it happen as I just stand still - refusing to come too close, but just as well - refusing to walk away.
I like Karen; she's an amazing lady with a rich story. And … she's teaching me about the value of staying present with people as we respect their boundaries.
Who knew the lady with the invisible fence had so much to teach the world?
She really does.
Katie Luse is a speaker and writer who is passionate about navigating life with eyes on a hunt for beauty.