Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Paying attention

It's late into the night or, depending on how you look at things, early into the morning and I'm awake packing for our Thanksgiving travels tomorrow.  Today was chilly and rainy in our little town and as I was passing by the neighborhood bar just up the street I caught a glimpse through the raindrop-speckled window of a man clearing away dishes and stacking them in a tub.  For a moment our eyes met.  The moment stayed with me, and off and on today I've been thinking of him--he was an older man, and in the small split second that we saw one another I could tell he was tired.  I wondered today where he was going for the holiday, or if he would be alone.  I wondered what brought him to that neighborhood bar in this small mid-Atlantic town looking for work.  I wondered what he was most worried about in that moment when I caught his eye and could tell he was harried, and disappointed, and ready to go home.

I'm thinking of him tonight as I pack up my things for some time away.  Yes, I might write about him, but not because I think it will be a juicy story--most likely it will fizzle like so many other ideas (that's just the nature of throwing out ideas)--but because writing is a way of saving those that we only know fleetingly.  The people we wonder about, the people we hope the best for.  It will be a way for me ease my worry about the man in the window.  It's not about giving him a happy ending, but just about giving him a story, giving meaning to his life by telling his story.  And really, that's even what I'm doing when I try to write about the people I do know well, not just fleetingly, when I try to incorporate little bits of the lives of the people I know and love into my work.  It's my way of sharing their meaning with the world.  Remember in Death of a Salesman when Willy Loman screams over and over, "Attention must be paid!"  All he wanted was for someone to know about his life, so that he wouldn't disappear into the silence.

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