This is my street. I took a picture of it because I think it’s awesome. I seriously stand and gape at it with my mouth hanging open, like a tourist seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I didn’t used to feel that way about streets…or about anything.
I used to go through life in fast forward, zipping down streets as just a way to get from one activity to another. Noticing things around me just didn’t happen, because I was trying to notice everything. I suffered from a condition Martha Beck likes to call FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out. To make sure I didn’t miss anything, I surrounded myself with every device possible, which created information overload. A typical car ride would include the radio or iTunes blasting, Facebook pinging me, text messages buzzing, the map app on my phone shouting at me to make a U-turn because I missed my exit again, my husband watching a movie on the Kindle Fire (while playing Bejeweled Blitz and talking on his phone), while my kids both try desperately to tell me about their day (while playing on their iPads and checking Instagram).
My heartrate just skyrocketed while I typed that. No wonder I was wound too tight to notice a street.
It would take a total lifestyle transformation, complete with a move halfway across the country, to slow me down long enough to open my eyes to the simple, breathtaking beauty all around me. But that transformation is a different story.
For now, I just want to focus on my street. It’s a cute little street, perfectly landscaped by hands much more skilled than mine. I’m so grateful for that, because I’m not going to lie, part of my enjoyment in the landscaping is that I don’t have to do it! There can be truth in the concept that you will enjoy something more if you have labored over it yourself. But when that labor becomes one more thing on a long to-do list, it can lose some of its luster. You can start to resent that thing you’re working so hard on, especially if it’s not something you are gifted with. And so I stare and appreciate the hard work others have done to create the beautiful landscaping all around me.
My street is part of a quiet neighborhood, made up of several more cute little streets. I share this neighborhood with a host of wildlife.
There are lizards that always seem to be in a terrible hurry to get from one side of the sidewalk to the other and back again. When we ride our bikes or skates, it feels like a live version of the old-school game Frogger. Lizards hang above my head while I’m sitting on the patio. Sometimes, they even make it inside! Thankfully, my daughter has a skill for catching lizards and sending them back out where they belong!
There are also many different types of birds. They are so elegant and graceful; I could watch them for hours. I don’t pretend to know all the species, but I do recognize cranes, ducks, and egrets. They share the many ponds in the neighborhood that are teeming with life. Life I never would have noticed before, but now I stop and stare at the ponds.
It always amazes me how loud nature is when the rest of the world is quiet. If I’m quiet enough, all sorts of creatures start to come out and let me into their world. I’ll see turtles pop their heads out of the water, fish leaping and splashing, multitudes of insects, the biggest snails I’ve ever seen, and if I’m patient enough, even snakes and alligators.
There are animals of the cute and fuzzy sort too. Bunnies live under almost every bush, and often peek out to see what the humans are up to. And there are always squirrels scurrying around, hoping we’ll drop something for them to taste.
And oh, the ants. Ants are everywhere! Have you ever stopped to watch them? They are on a mission, I tell you! I have never seen such busy creatures. Sometimes my “walks” around the neighborhood are more like “stops” around the neighborhood because I let myself get distracted with the awesome busyness of the ants.
I mean, look at what they built! Do you even realize how much effort that must have taken for those tiny little ants? Does it even feel like effort to them?
I didn’t used to have time to ponder such things. Correction. I didn’t used to make time to ponder such things. A few years ago, I would have told myself to stop wasting time.
I praise the Lord that I have come to realize these are the things worth spending time on. Figuring out all the connections just in my one little neighborhood, on just my one little street, has opened my consciousness to much bigger connections. Once I started taking the time to notice the bunnies and even the ants, I started to notice people too. Paying real attention to them. Genuinely caring what their life is like, and meaning it when I ask “How are you?” This is important, because it’s why we’re here…to share love and relationship.
After I slowed down enough to notice all of this with my eyes, I started using my other senses too. The smells on my street are fantastic. Flowers, for one thing. Sometimes they are so powerful, I can’t smell anything else.
But every now and then, I’ll smell a barbecue. And that not only makes my mouth water, but it also makes me think of community. It means someone is providing for their family and getting ready to share a meal. And then I see a couple of people out walking their dog, two kids racing their bikes down the street, joggers. This is a community. Of people, of animals, of plants. This is where the living happens. This is where my kids are growing up.
In his book Love Wins, Rob Bell introduces the concept that a little bit of Heaven is accessible to us now…right here on Earth. When I stop to look around, to really notice the beauty, I can start to think that might be possible. Appreciating the beauty that is here in front of us now can be a way of preparing for the Heaven that is coming, the one that is way too beautiful for us to fully comprehend yet.
This place is AMAZING. And I don’t just mean this place that I am in. I mean the place that you are in, too. What does your street look like? Have you even noticed it before? I mean, really noticed it? Are you caught up in FOMO, like I was? And in your fear of missing out, have you actually missed out on what is right in front of you? I did. For way too long. I pray that it won’t happen again. And I pray that next time you go out on your street, you get to appreciate it for all that it is. Amazing.
“We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.” ~Maya Angelou
“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.” ~Emily Dickinson