For several months, my spare pondering moments have been eaten up by voice; quirks; pet phrases; the little knicky-knacky parts of the personality that make each person an individual. I think about it when I hear that annoying breathless voice on the radio, and know it’s Jewel, or that cheery-sounding tenor that means Panic! At the Disco. I think about it when I hear a friend of mine receive a compliment, and I wait for the inevitable: “This? It’s not new, it’s old. And the only reason I’m wearing it is all my nice stuff was at the cleaner’s. I mean, it’s not even in fashion anymore. I probably should have worn something else.” I think about it when I hear a slightly askew pronunciation or see a certain twitch of the eyebrow.
Quirks: we’ve all got ’em. (All except some of the characters in my juvenile fantasy novel, which is why I’ve been so frantic on the subject. But they can’t escape the results of my pondering forever!)
I have long thought that the problem must be a lack of observation on my part. (It reminds me of a story fantasy/ sci fi novelist Tim Powers shared at an event where we were two of the speakers. [Impressive, no? One of the other speakers was current Orange County archivist Phil Brigandi, and there was a fourth whose name now escapes me.] The story focused on a dinner Tim and a bunch of other authors attended. There they were, chattering away, when their quirk-rich waitress approached to take their orders. As soon as she left, they whipped out their handy notebooks and began scribbling notes so they’d be able to use those quirks to enrich a future fictional character.)
So I’ve been striving to be more observant. It’s tougher than it sounds: how can I spend half my time actually working, half my time daydreaming about my characters so that they’ll be more alive on the page, and half my time observing real life? It’s too much to ask, I tells ya.
So there I was in church, and all I’d been doing was observing. Okay, I’d been listening a little bit too. The big focus tonight was on the two major commandments. You know the ones: love God above all things, and love your neighbor as yourself.
I’d been having a little bit of trouble with the second one, actually. The church was quite full, and a lot of the people around me (okay, in front of me) appeared to have been heavily afflicted with the fidgets. Two rows ahead was a family particularly guilty of talking to each other, handling their car keys far more than necessary, and just generally driving me nuts. The approx. 60-year-old man even had a water bottle—in church!—that he couldn’t let out of his sight, so every time he stood up or kneeled down or sat he had to move it to a new position.
But the music was particularly traditional and soothing, and soon my irritation had ebbed away. So much so, in fact, that I just watched in a detached sort of way when—after everyone had joined hands and said the Our Father, and we were all swaying worshipfully to “Lamb of God”—the woman in the middle of the group turned around to grab something from the pew.
Then I saw that she had a plastic bottle in her hand. I figured she was shifting the older man’s water bottle to a new position.
I watched her reach the bottle toward her son, and stretch over her son to reach it out to her husband, and then reach it to the water bottle man and then to the woman on his other side.
And that’s when I realized it wasn’t a water bottle. It was a bottle of hand sanitizer. Because sure, we all strive to love our neighbors as ourselves—but nowhere does Jesus command that we have to love their germs, too.
If this is the kind of quirk I’ve been missing with my lack of observation, I definitely have a lot to catch up on.