I’m standing inside Safeway on 26th and Pearl staring blankly at the message on the ATM screen. “Your cash cannot be processed or returned at this time. Please call for help.”
It’s 8 p.m., well past customer service hours. “Help!” the voice in my head screams in panic.
At that instant, a tall young man materializes to my left, startling me with his tentative query.
“Rose?” he asks, holding out a white flower, his earnest blue eyes urging me to take it. I stutter my thanks as he turns and strides off with his snowy bouquet, leaving me to gape after him.
The universe has just confiscated my cash, dropping a white rose out of the sky as an apology. As I feel the prick of a thorn against my thumb, jarring me back to reality, I smile at the peace offering and understand that everything will be OK.
Life is full of seemingly spontaneous occurrences, moments that make me stop and marvel at the uncanny congruence of humanity’s delicate dance. Had I ignored the rose-giver – like the suspicious woman who ignored my warning and attempted to use the greedy machine – I would have completely missed the message, and with it the appreciative glow I felt at that moment toward my fellow man.
Missing the message is often much easier to do than receive it. Let’s face it, being a grown-up is hard. Days are a blur of activity, each waking minute dedicated to a task, guilt quick to pounce if we find ourselves unoccupied. Wake to alarm clock, pay taxes, lose weight, fix the toilet, pump gas, scrape ice, feed the cat!
It reminds me of the sensation of spinning as a child, feet unsteadily hopping, watching colors ooze together as shapes become wiggly and unrecognizable. If you don’t remind yourself to slow down, you might miss the slivers of enlightenment that twinkle on the periphery.
My innately sensitive mother, viewing the world with the perceptive eyes of an artist, taught me how to pick up on these intangible treasures by the power of shared experience.
“How was your day, Mom?” will invoke a vibrant flux of images as she transforms seemingly mundane activities into a kaleidoscope of color and meaning.
We trade mental snapshots like baseball cards: her flock of cotton-candy-haired grandmas at the Y for my drive to work in a billowy cloud. “Vignettes” we call these brief observations that linger in our minds. There is no wrong answer; a vignette may be an intimate glimpse into someone else’s life or a scene that makes you look twice, unexpected meaning resonating in your occipital lobe.
“But Mom, you said run in and run out,” a little boy laments, tiny green Converses squeaking on the linoleum as he trails after his mother at TJ Maxx. I can’t help but laugh at the poor kid’s justified exasperation, tricked into traversing an endless maze of towering clothing racks and discounted hair products.
A vignette is the early morning sun shining through the branches of our cherry tree on the anniversary of my grandmother’s death, warming me with her memory.
It is Ali, known as “The 711 Guy” to North Tacomans, doling out ridiculous jokes at 7 a.m., making you laugh involuntarily at an hour designated for grouchiness. It is Sublime coming on the radio as I tensely grip the steering wheel during rush hour, reminding me pointedly to “chill out.” It is the man who crosses the store to hold the door for me at Starbucks, and the Little-Caesar’s-sign-holding teenager who refuses to abandon his darkened post amidst the blackout that swept Lakewood last month.
These are the moments that bring me into now, make me laugh, calm my thoughts, revive my soul.
Sometimes vignettes hurt; you can’t open yourself to experience tiny miracles without letting some pain trickle in. I’ve found, however, that the more I understand these insights, the silly, the beautiful and the sad, the more I understand the world around me and my place within it. I seek them out. I depend on them.
All these things I could easily miss, but I stubbornly hold my antenna aloft, receptive and waiting.Melissa Frink is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on these pages. She lives in North Tacoma with her feline daughter, Moxie Moo Frink. She has no human children at this time. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.