Tag Archives: beauty

Hiding in Plain Sight

1 Jan

IMG_9163We were just stepping away from the wood-fired pizza hearth out into the mild winter Brooklyn night, squinting under street lamps and marveling at the scent of smoke clinging to our coats, when the whole scene gained one more very fitting element. Wildlife. I looked up and saw the biggest raccoon I’ve ever seen—truly, bear-like in stature—scrambling up a bare and spindly tree across the street. He (I have to think it was a male, the poor creature was gigantic) kept wiggling clumsily upward, alternately backing and forwarding himself further out onto branches that didn’t look like they would support his weight. The further up he went, the more sparse the coverage got, and soon he was as conspicuous as an errant helium balloon caught on ascent.

But actually, he was not nearly conspicuous enough to attract attention in this city. No one looks up. Ever. Especially if other people are looking upward somewhere in the vicinity. People looking skyward are either tourists, lost souls, scammers trying to draw attention to themselves, or staring at some source of trouble that will require some sort of action. Each of these scenarios are repellant to most New Yorkers. Except me and my friends. We look up.

We were doing so for a few minutes, making gasping noises and sharing commentary about the size of the raccoon and the proximity of a fairly large park, and of course, you know, the presence of that picnic source for urban wildlife, garbage cans. No one else stopped walking to look up with us, and finally, as the raccoon took increasingly fearful note of our gaze, my friend said, “Oh, he’s terrified. Let’s leave him alone so he can find his way back down.”

We headed our separate ways, and I have every confidence that our furry friend was clever enough to soon find more adequate shelter. Wily raccoon lore lends plenty of credit to the species, even if this particular member seemed a bit out of sorts with tree selection.

That was my first raccoon sighting here, but there are frequent eye-witness accounts of all sorts of wildlife on these islands. (I can hear people grumbling about the marginalization of wildlife in urban habitats, and let me reassure you that there are plenty of animal advocates here in NYC, so calm down.) What’s more intriguing to me is the number of people who missed out on the temporary thrill of knowing that there was another midnight-snacker outside the corner deli that evening.

At any given moment, we’re missing out on plenty of stuff here, and everywhere, all the time. In fact, as the late, great poet and philosopher John O’Donohue pointed out in an interview with Krista Tippett on the NPR show “On Being” in 2007 (they replayed the conversation this summer, and I was thrilled because of course it turns out that he was the author of the Irish Blessing I’m so obsessed with, but that’s another story)… we’re missing out on quite a bit even  when we’re sitting at the same table with someone. He put it this way:

“I think the beauty of being human is that we’re incredibly, intimately near each other. We know about each other, but yet we do not know or never can know what it’s like inside another person. And it’s amazing, you know, here am I sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you’re looking at mine and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces. And that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.”

There certainly can be some slight despair associated at all we might be missing, either in terms of what we don’t see or cannot know, or maybe in terms of what we don’t show others as we attempt to protect ourselves, hiding among spindly branches and wishing other people would stop looking directly at us…  but I’m going to try to remember how O’Donohue so aptly defined that notion as beautiful.

And if that’s not enough, I’m sure the universe will keep gently presenting the unexpected to remind me that it’s what we can’t know that is truly beautiful. Like yesterday, when I just happened to pull back my curtains and look outside at my backyard precisely as a huge possum ran along the back wall. A possum! Verifiably that, and not another type of city creature, was making her way through the shrubbery, and I have to say, looking rather pleased with herself for being so bold and yet so invisible at the same time. Just another pedestrian going to work, she was, and I think I may have been the only one who witnessed her in that moment. More proof that you should always look up.

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