“See something, say something”
Yesterday evening I did something I have not done for years. I got caught by one of South Florida’s tropical downpours. Now the rain itself is not unusual. I was in the Student’s Union of a local university, and was about to leave when I saw the rain. It was not pretty. The drops were large, the sky was black, and there was thunder and lightning around. And no, I did not have an umbrella. In the lobby of the building there was a young man who claimed he could not turn off the rain for me (of course, that request had him looking very puzzled). Then I spotted a table tennis table. And my next request was to ask him if we could play a game. Tell you the truth, I was not serious. But out he came with two rackets and a ball.
For the next fifteen minutes I surprised myself with my ability to return a ball and actually score a few points on him. We didn’t keep score, just knocked the ball back and forth. And I told him he couldn’t spin or use any tricks on me. So when I managed a little spin on a couple of my serves he was quite upset! But it was a pleasant way to spend some time waiting on the downpour to ease up.
In today’s society we don’t spend a lot of time looking into the eyes of total strangers, getting to know them a little. Back in our home town we were brought up to greet everyone we met, be they total strangers or the local scoundrel. We looked around us and noticed things. We took responsibility for the area we lived in. We picked up trash, even when it was not our own. We paid attention to the comings and goings of our neighbors, and raised questions if we didn’t see them following their normal routine.
If you live in the city in America, you mind your own business. You keep your head straight and your eyes down. Even worse with our addiction to being ever-connected, ever-wired to the world beyond our immediate surroundings. You see people crossing the road, head phones in, eyes glued to the screen of their ‘smart phone’. We now know more about the happenings across the world than in our back yard.
And then when something truly horrific takes place in that back yard, we question how nobody knew. How could a man imprison and torture three young women for ten years? How could two men place bombs in the middle of a crowd? It is time for us to reconnect with the world around us, and pay attention to now.
The motto that I heard after the Boston bombing was “See something, say something.” How many crimes could be averted if people who thought something was amiss actually reported it? Intimate partner violence is going on before our eyes, but we don’t want to get involved. We see the evidence, but we don’t interfere in someone else’s relationship. Over 50% of female homicide victims were killed by someone they knew, and of these victims, 75% were stalked before they died. Perhaps if someone had looked up, and spoken up, some of these women could have been saved.
Even closer to home, how are families interacting when they have to compete with an internet that provides 24/7 entertainment and distraction? Everywhere you go you see couples out together, each involved in separate activities on their cell phones. And I can’t even imagine how difficult it is to keep track of what is going on in the lives of your teenagers. I am glad my kids were young adults before cell phones provided the distractions that they do today.
Perhaps we can commit to disconnecting from the virtual world a bit more (yes, that includes facebook!), and paying more attention to our immediate world. We need to listen to the people around us, so that we don’t miss any cries for help or support. We cannot be present for our loved ones if we are keeping one eye on our twitter feed, or checking our email. While we are keeping tabs on the wider world, precious moments may be slipping away.
Technology can do many wonderful things for us. Text me your address, I can program it into my smart phone, and navigate safely to your door. But while paying attention to the turn left, turn right, I may miss a kid running into the street. We need to be more present, more mindful of each moment, before some wonderful opportunities go whizzing by us.
This Friday morning I hope you can be inspired to lift up your heads, and in so doing, lift up your hearts to be aware of the world around you. When we look out for our neighbor, when we hear the distress that our child is trying to conceal, when we spot the signs that our co-worker needs a hand, we are lifting up our hearts to the possibilities of a more compassionate world.
Have a wonderful Friday, family. May you never be caught in a South Florida shower of rain. The raindrops are huge, icy cold, and you will get soaked in thirty seconds! And if you see a table tennis board, stop and share a game with a stranger! Make a connection, remember, we are one big family!