Friday, February 26, 2016

Busyness As Usual

I met a guy a while back who played guitar.  He seemed nice, well educated and spoken.  I found an opportunity to ask him if he and I might get together and play some tunes.  He said that sounded great so I asked him if some evening that week would be good.  He actually chuckled out loud and suggested that he was far to busy the rest of the month, December, in his defense, to get together.  I e-mailed him sometime during the next month and asked when he'd like to jam.  Again he mentioned how stressed and busy he was.  I tried one last time and when he rejected the idea again, I gave up.

I wanted the opinion of an old friend of mine about a song I was working on.  He said he was busy but he'd get to it as soon as he could.  He never did.

Another old friend of mine showed up on FaceBook some time ago, I messaged him and said we should talk on the phone and catch up.  I wanted to thank him for some things he said and did for me a lifetime ago.  He told me things were really busy and he was stressed and we should do it some other time.  We won't.

I am finally learning that when someone says they're "too busy" what they are really doing is - albeit politely - blowing you off.  Often, they are simply, in their minds, incapable of finding the time to engage you.  I get it, people work and have full schedules but, well, there is a flip side to it.

When you say you are too busy to be with someone - there's no nice way to say it - you diminish them, marginalize them.  I mean, you're too busy to fit me in - a new friend, an old friend, a mentor, a past love... a son?  Me, a person.

It hurts my feelings.

I'm a big boy though. I can take it.

But kids, not so.

I've paid attention to Nick and Zack.  I've watched them grow; I know their favorite things; I know what shirt they'll choose and why a boy just needs one pair of shoes.  I know how to make them laugh and I know what makes them cry.  I know whom loneliness frightens and who avoids aloneness; I know them as a friend would.

It's funny, I want to rail against this "busyness" thing but I can't find it in me.  I do it.  I project a mock busyness here on this blog.  That's not true.  I keep busy here because it shows the rest of the world how busy I am.  It's my way of getting to say "I'm Busy" I guess.  Well that's an awkward realization...

I'm not really that busy.  In fact I'm not busy at all.  I've got things to do, sure, but, I've got time to toss a ball or play a game of ping-pong or watch the new episode of "Teen Titans Go!"  I'm not too busy to make dinner, or to get up early and get some biscuits in of a  morning, or to change the toilet paper or say one more goodnight.

I guess some folks are.

Busyness trickles down and lingers longest in our children.

I'm not gonna tell you to drop your smartphone or close your FB account.  I'm not gonna ask you to stop over-scheduling your household and hurrying from one practice, appointment, rehearsal or meeting to another.

I am going to ask you to do this:  Look up, look around; engage.

Pay attention with intention.

Don't just look away from the phone, put it away.


I was in a coffee shop a year or so ago, the green one, you know.  I had a ceramic cup and a wobbly table and a small book.  I looked around and every face was down and glowing.  I don't have to describe the scene, you know it.  Had a tenth-century monk wandered in I am sure he'd have dropped to his knees in prayer, assuming that's what everyone was doing.  It was quieter than I expected, the sound of the espresso machines behind the dirge of names, like a litany of the dead.

Hell, I was tempted to pray.

My little table was close to the line, which ended next to me.  I watched.  I tried to smile at people, but most were so surprised, when they looked up, at meeting another pair of eyes they instantly looked back down at whatever they palmed.

I was looking towards the door when a mother and a little boy came in.  She looked sporty and was furiously texting with a manicured finger with one hand as the other held the boy's hand.  He was four or so and wore a parka and red stripey gloves with floppy fingers because his didn't quite reach into them all the way.  As soon as they were through the door the mother released the boy and headed for the line.

He didn't look around as a kid might at a new place, asking questions and taking it all in.  He'd been here before.  What he did was look at the people at the tables.  I knew what he wanted - perhaps what we all want - was for someone to notice him.  A few people would look his way and then look back down.  His little shoulders would square up, he looked a little taller and, then he'd deflate a little.

He gave a table of business men a floppy little wave.  And then, thinking, I'd guess, that it was an ineffectual wave, he took off the gloves and shoved them in his pocket and waved again.  One man saw him.  I knew he wanted to wave, I could see it in his eyes, but, he didn't.

"Daniel, come here and hold my pocket," the mom said.

He walked towards her.  He looked, and I'm sure felt, little, unimportant, invisible.

He looked around again.  Most everyone was standing in the line his mom was in.  His little eyes darted and hopped around and he'd jog his head a little trying to get a face in his view.

He walked by me, very close to me in fact, close enough to see his freckles, close enough to recognize the look in his eyes as sadness.  He finally looked my way.  I saw him and smiled and gave him a little palms out wave, subconsciously, maybe, showing him nothing was in my hand.  He lit up.  He waved back and smiled and...

"Daniel, hold my pocket!"

I made an "uh-oh" face and his eyes widened in mock fear.  He reached up and found the tender warmth of his mother's parka pocket.  He sort of swiveled around so that he had his hand where he needed it to be, but could still see me.

We did that bit you do with a kid - I hope you remember.  He made a face, I did.  He raised his eyebrows, one at a time.  I looked astonished at his prowess.  He laughed as I tried, but, had to hold one down with my finger.  I winked and he blinked back.  I longed to call him over, to talk to him, to put my hand on his shoulder, to show him he mattered.

They moved up to the counter, he turned to look into the pastry case.  He looked up at his mother and said something.  Her head shook no.  He looked back down at the case and then twisted again to look at me.  He made a sad face.  I shook my head knowingly, trying to show him I was sorry.  I shrugged my shoulders and indicated his mom, trying to suggest that he ask again.  He shook "no."    I shrugged again like, "why not?"

He tugged down on the pocket, kinda hard.  She looked at him and her face suddenly recognized him.  She looked around and caught my eye.  I smiled, she softened.  They turned back to the counter and then waited a bit, talking between them.  He kept glancing my way and I smiled back.  Following his gaze she found me again.  I smiled, winked and nodded.  She did, too.

As they finished, she walked by me and mouthed "thank you."  You see, she knew I'd been a part of it, she knew she looked foolish and cold.  She knew I caught her catching herself.

Daniel dawdled as Daniel's will do and was a few steps behind her.  He stopped in front of me, Bear Claw in hand, and smiled.  I put up my hand for a high five.  He put up his and slowly put his palm against mine.  It lingered there.

It still does.


I can't say what I'd like you to learn from this story, for what reason I present it; I'll let you do that yourself.

Here's the thing, it's about attention.  It's about intent.

So, maybe, like, please, don't let others - you know who I mean - think you're to busy for them.  It is unkind, and unkindness hurts.

I few years ago now I made this meme.  It's really the only one I've ever attempted.

(I'd forgotten about the post called "The Memefication of Folder X" in which I made bad memes out of a bunch of images I had.)

Well, thanks for coming around.

Listen, I asked "Other-one-Me" to post on the IHIWAT FB page when a new piece is up here.  Has he been doing that?  And, well, if he has, uh, has he been being a jerk about it?  I hope not.



  1. To the readers: when you are making contact don't forget the elderly out here, we are also often without close ties and friends.

  2. Great point Bill, and a story well told too. We all know the scene and are guilty to some degree. Good to have a reminder. Btw, I always try to give a warm smile at least to the little ones I see out in public. Always love the reactions.

  3. I love the story.
    I have to keep my head up more. It'amazing what we can do for each other by simply paying attention.