People Watching

Sitting downtown at the park with my Peets cappuccino, I settle in to observe people; one of my favorite pastimes. There is so much to learn through the countless ways people express themselves and interact with others.

There are several paved paths in the park allowing walkers and runners to take different routes each time they go around the square.  It is interesting to see the paths each person chooses to walk.  Some strictly follow the square path circling the park and do not deviate from that. Others choose a different intersecting path each time, making their jaunt around the park unpredictable to those observing them. Different personalities at play.

From my bench, I spot a group of 60-something ladies in their comfy walking outfits, white shoes, and brightly colored sun visors, walking 2-3 abreast loudly chatting about the choices their grown children and grandchildren are making. The ladies appear oblivious to the rest of the park goers as they march in serious conversation often peppered with laughter, stemming from a long-time camaraderie. These ladies must know each other and the inner workings of each family on a deep level to have earned the right to share their opinions. It’s entertaining to guess how they first met and the careful dance they did around each other until familiarity, trust, and love grew into the friendship they now share. I want friendships like this – women who have a place in my heart that is so woven and interconnected that we weather all kinds of storms and victories together, never hesitating to rally around each other with love, laughter, encouragement, and respect. I am grateful for the precious women that fill this spot. I say a prayer for those I’m blessed to call friends.

Across the square, there are 4 or 5 teens hanging out at one of the tables. Backpacks, phones, and food are strewn between them as they take selfies, gossip, and laugh at TikTok videos. One young lady appears to lead the pack. When she laughs, the others laugh and when she stands up to dance to a favorite song, all eyes are on her and a couple of them get up and mimic her dancing. She is the first to grab for the snacks and the others defer. Interesting how different personality types drift together; the leaders and followers, the outgoing and introverts all have a place. As I observe them, I wonder what God’s plan is for them. They each have unique gifts and talents. It is easy to watch a strong Type A leader and imagine them going far, but sometimes it’s the quiet observers, who take it all in and ponder, who quietly take the world by storm. I pray that they each find their place and people; that there is always someone in their corner who supports and loves them deeply.

Next to the water fountain an older man takes a break from his walk. He follows the same paved path for each turn around the park. This is not the first time I have seen him here, walking his predictable route. He walks with purpose, but at a slow pace. His comfortable shoes and tan slacks with a t-shirt are his usual outfit. As he sits a spell, I notice him looking at each person as they move past him, as if willing them to notice him and spend a few minutes shooting the breeze. I’m close enough to see his wistful gaze, as if he remembers other walks in this park, perhaps with his wife or a close friend that he has since lost. Are nostalgia and memories his close friends now? It gives me an ache in my heart for him. I imagine Jesus next to him on the dark blue bench bringing him comfort, peace, and a balm for his loneliness. The ultimate best friend. I say a prayer for this gentleman, asking for some joy, peace, and camaraderie.

As the morning moves along, the playground fills with moms and kids. Different parenting styles are evident this morning and I find it fascinating. There is the group on one side of the playground, who have taken up an entire section of the granite bench that encircles the play area. They are so orderly and neat! Snacks, tiny water bottles and juice filled cups are lined up carefully. Each child is told to get a big drink and stay hydrated before going on their climbing, shrieking, energy draining adventures. Most obey and take big drinks except for a couple of them, who cannot resist the pull of play. They peek at their moms, take the tiniest, fastest sip possible and dash off. These moms seem to enjoy their together time, but always with a sharp eye on all the shenanigans happening on the slide and big climbing tunnels. I hear warnings of “be careful, slow down, that’s too high and use your words!”, shouted from the bench, all the while still managing to maintain the flow of conversation.

Another pair of moms and kids occupy a spot next to the well-organized group. These moms have a couple of backpacks full of random snacks, toys and juice boxes spilling out. They are more carefree in their playground rules. I hear less shouts and warnings from these two. They are intent on their conversation and less focused on the playground interactions, which the children are quick to take advantage of while they can.

The children and their interactions with each other are fascinating! I love how the lone child there with his mom, is included in the games and treated as if he has been part of their group forever. Easy inclusion; no posturing and judging. Adults could learn a lot from that.

Looking at these little lives, I imagine the mark each of these children will leave on the world. I ask God to smooth out and make their paths straight; to open doors that keep them going in the right direction and for His hand of protection to be all over them.

Under the leafy trees next to the pathway lies a homeless man wrapped in his sleeping bag. His isn’t sleeping. His arms are behind his head as he looks up into the leafy foliage. A suitcase full of his belongings and life is settled next to him, along with a water bottle and a crumpled chip bag.  I watch as the park walkers notice him there. The reactions are varied. A woman with her coffee and small bag of something yummy from Peets changes direction and follows a different route. Is it to avoid passing him? Does she fear having to acknowledge him or worry she will be asked for something? Others pass him by without a second glance, intent on the path in front of them or their phones. I can tell they are very aware of him, but don’t want it to be known. Are they afraid of what they don’t understand and haven’t experienced? Is it fear? What if the person suffers from mental illness and acts erratic, what do they do then? How lonely and hurtful it is to be unseen.

Eventually an older man and his dog stop and engage him. The dog sniffs and wags as the man pets and interacts, maybe for the first time in a while. After their pleasantries and chat are finished, I watch the man’s face. He looks after the one who stopped and made him feel seen. His face reflects that joy of acknowledgement and it’s a lovely thing to see. Who knows what that simple act will do for this man and his life trajectory? We never know for certain what our interaction with another human being does for them, but we can rest assured there is an effect, either positive or negative; never neutral. I offer a prayer for provision, protection, and opportunity for his circumstances to change.

There are frequently lone walkers in this park. They seem to be tranquil and at peace on the outside, but I wonder what burdens lie on their hearts. A few take a seat on benches and watch the world go by. Maybe they are taking advantage of a few moments alone to recharge. Maybe they are on a break, getting in some steps or waiting to meet a friend.

As I sit, I wonder if there are fellow people watchers quietly observing me. Are they trying to divine what I’m about, what my facial expressions and body language are speaking and what my heart holds? I wonder if they can tell that I’m a fellow observer trying to glean insight into the human spirit.

Psalm 139:2-3 (ESV), says, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.”

God is the ultimate people watcher. He sees, knows, and discerns everything we are about and all that hurts us and heals us. It makes me happy to know how carefully watched over and known I am. We only see what people choose to reveal and try to discern what it all means, but God…He knows our inner workings, sees past the persona we offer to the world and the parts we so desperately want to hide. To be fully know and greatly adored; that is relief, rest, and peace.

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