When I first arrived in New York, I was homesick and disheartened by the massive change- the lack of nature specifically. It was crowded and loud. As a student in a dorm room, the only alone time I had was in the shower which was less than ideal. One night, when I was feeling particularly down about the lack of trees and grass, what I interpreted as the inherent lack of beauty in the city, a friend of mine took me on a walk toward the Hudson. I was looking out at the skyline beyond the river with her and we had a resonate exchange that I distinctly remember.
I said, “I wish I could see the stars.”
She gestured out to the glowing skyline, “These will have to be your stars for now.”
They would become my stars, even though I didn’t recognize it at the time. Were they stars? No. However, those glowing lights had a captivating quality about them and now I find myself fascinated by the fact that each one of those lights emanates from a room- with a person in it- uniquely living their life- entirely unaware that I am pondering their being. Rooms as numerous as the stars, lights marking their existence. Are they stars? No. Are they beautiful in their own right? Absolutely.
I share this to explain that often times when we are feeling low or shaken up, it can be difficult to see the wonder around us. It doesn’t have to follow a large shift in our life either. That deadening desk job or tight schedule might wear on us after a few months, tunneling our vision towards the negatives while blocking out the wonder and beauty around us as non-essential. Wonder and beauty ARE essential and they are ever present, the trick is being able to slow down and appreciate them to their fullest extent. After living in NYC for about two years I have come to appreciate and love the beauty it has to offer. I find it on every sidewalk, every building, and in every fat pigeon pecking at some pizza crust. It was a mindset that I had to actively cultivate but it was one of the most rewarding mental shifts I could have worked towards. There are two ideas that helped my perspective: children are smarter than us, busy is a burden.
Children Are Smarter Than Us
No, that three year old can’t do taxes. He can’t spell either. They may just be learning to use the toilet but damn- they’ve got some stuff figured out that just boggles us. I was doing some thinking as to why children are, generally, very happy- or at least not depressed. Some would attribute it to their relatively care free lifestyle. The world isn’t weighing on an eight year old like it would someone in their thirties who has to pay rent next week. I don’t think that’s it. Kids still have worries, they’re just different. Think back to the things that troubled you when you were younger. The earliest memory you can recall may only be from middle-school, but even so, that traumatic moment of not being asked to that dance or failing your first test was impactful. The recollection may make you laugh now, the problems then seem so much smaller than the ones we face today, but it felt as real and heavy back then as getting fired would today, right? Children have very genuine worries and fears, they don’t live care free. It just looks like it from our perspective a few miles down the road of life. I think children are generally happy- or at least not depressed- because they can see the wonder and beauty in the world that we blind ourselves to.
When my little brother was younger, he was a quiet and pensive kid. He was always watching, analyzing the world around him. He was learning. Other children do this in a more tactile way. When your kid is in the sandbox or barreling down the slide, they’re not just playing, they’re exploring. The world is a big and new place. Even their own bodies are machines that they haven’t quite yet learned to pilot efficiently (not to say that the motor skills of adults are all that fantastic either, you haven’t see me dance). But the point remains, they’re actively searching with eyes wide open because if they don’t, they won’t be able to grow into functional people. With those open and curious eyes they can see the absolutely stunning stuff around them that we, wiser and smarter adults, just don’t. A child plucks a dandelion and thinks, ‘what a pretty flower‘. We see a dandelion in the lawn and think, ‘what a pesky weed’.
The first step to seeing the the beauty in the world around us is to rekindle our sense of curiosity. Edward Bloom has this down. In case you’ve never seen the musical or read the book Big Fish, Edward is an incredibly curious guy- living a life full of wonder that may or may not be based in reality. He’s a traveling salesman but his job doesn’t consist of trudging door to door and praying for a sale. His life consists of an active adventure, meeting new people, and exploring the scenery. He’s a curious guy. To rekindle curiosity in order to see the wonder around us, we have to view every experience as a chance to learn and explore. Everyone you talk to may have something valuable to say, regardless of your opinion of them. That muddy river isn’t just a geographical landmark, it’s the life source of cities and the road of explorers from long ago. Those city lights aren’t just a secession of bulbs in sockets, they’re indicators of individual lives simultaneously shouting, “I exist!” To see the wonder and beauty in the world, we have to wonder why. To see the wonder and beauty in the world, we have to emulate children.
Busy Is A Burden
When I say that ‘busy is a burden’ I don’t mean that having goals and responsibilities is a bad thing. They are overwhelmingly positive forces. I am referring to the ‘mindset of busy’. While you run from class to class or from work to daycare, it’s easy to turn up the music in your car or on your headphones and let tunnel vision take hold. It’s easy to keep your eyes on your phone while you walk down the street, in fact it may even feel productive- it’s not. You can’t see the beauty around you if you can’t mentally slow down. You can’t mentally slow down if you’re furiously typing that clever tweet. The tweet can wait, if it’s clever now it’ll still be clever in twenty minutes.
Instead, we have to practice un-busying ourselves in those little transitional periods of the day- both your mind and your thumbs will thank you for it. It is the beauty of the world that carries us through the hardest times in our lives. It’s always there, begging for your attention and appreciation. However, if we tunnel vision ourselves we’ll miss it every time. Busy is a burden. Instead of scrolling through your unchanged Instagram feed for the thirteenth time in the last hour, look up for a minute and notice that dog intently staring down that bush. I wonder what he sees in there? The whole thing is kind of funny. The whole thing is kind of beautiful.
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