We all find ourselves tunnel-visioned at times, managing competing priorities and the stress of the everyday. Sometimes you just have to get out of the office, walk down the street, and simply observe. I have found this one of the best ways to refresh awareness and prevent burnout. I don’t do this nearly enough, but I—and you—should.
Eleven years ago, to the month it turns out, I stepped out of my office in the U-district of Seattle and strolled down University Way, popularly called “The Ave,” on a trip to the post office. In my years in Seattle, I never took for granted its enchanting aura of street musicians, the vast sea of disparate sounds of urban activity, its international array of food and people, or its historic and patchwork nooks and crannies. Back in April 2006, I had returned from the post office and journaled this memory . . .
“I slipped hurriedly into a side door of a post office on a quick errand. The line behind me quickly filled in. A man behind me cursed with a tone of cynical disregard for not just the length of the line but the presence of other people around him. Something of it smacked of peculiarity. I shuffled backward just enough to hear his words more clearly. A lady behind him jabbered nonsensically and accidentally stepped sideways into his shoulder just enough to earn a hearty bellow from the poor, irritable fellow.
I spasmed out short, constrained giggles, turning slightly to catch a glimpse. I began to hear with greater clarity varied mumbling utterances throughout the entire length of the line, taking in the scene. I spun around even further to look straight-faced into the perseverating chap behind me, and smiled from ear to ear as I said hello.
I emerged from the line into a stairwell below street level peeking out onto The Ave. There were pots and pans, a few crates strategically positioned, here a metal tin can, there an ordinary plastic bucket. I watched as he set them up, watched his quick rimshots and adjustments, watched his fills, then watched him shift around his set with intention and method. It was soothing standing there, just barely hidden by a concrete barrier on which was bolted the handrails of the stairs emerging from below.
I stood silent and motionless in the shadows, so moved by the colorful foreground of a Jamaican street musician against the grayish composites of a dreary April sky. The beats were at once sullen and tranquil, full of repose. His eyes beamed joy. And that is when I heard the soundtrack of this organic day of rhythm, color, and rhyme—
‘Don’t worry (boom, boom), about a thing (boom, boom, boom) CAUSE EVERY LITTLE THING (boom) is GONNA BE ALRIGHT…’
As I walked north on University Way, I could feel the cool breeze and see the beginning movements of a springtime long-forgotten, as when Aslan employed the Deep Magic to reverse the evils of a Winter that was never Christmas. I breathed in warm vapors of Indian curry alongside Thai spice and teriyaki. A young homeless couple sat distracted in a card game and conversation. Their cardboard sign made me smerk—
‘Ninjas killed my parents.’
An acapella singer stomped and clapped along my way. He was stamping out his weariness and belting out hope—
‘Lean on me, (bomp), when you’re not stro-hong (uh!), and I’ll be your friend, (YEAH), I’ll help you carry on (clap)…’
My anxious thoughts settled into inner peace. I kept walking, brushing past him, his pain and his harmonies. Upon the invitation of the white-lit icon of the pedestrian, I stepped into the open crosswalk, halting just long enough for a large truck to leap over the intersection, scraping a bundle of metal bars onto the hill of his ascendance where my foot was about to step. The guy next to me turned to share glances, and we laughed together at what seemed like the pure comedy of a nervous encounter with death.”
What helps you unwind and refresh your senses in the grind of the day-to-day?
This post was originally published on LinkedIn and is republished here with permission from the author.
Photo credit: Flickr Street musicians in Seattle’s U-District