Saturday, 3 January 2015

A tree walking

“He said: ‘I see people, but they look like trees walking.’”*

In its context, that’s an important verse – to do with insight and enlightenment in the disciple. It’s of structural significance in Mark’s gospel. But that’s not what brought it to mind.

I thought of it the other day, walking along the foreshore by the ocean, on a breezy day. Families were out en masse. It always intrigues me that each group stays in its own social bubble, oblivious to the others around.

Walking along, suddenly a voice in my right ear (as a cyclist going fast draws level) bellows, “HOW’S YOUR HEART, DAD?”
Dad, cycling just behind him, bellows back, “STILL THERE!”

Two women with a small girl approach. The child is struggling with a coat she either can’t put on or can’t take off – not clear which. An integral component of the struggle, emitting ear-splitting screams at frequent regular intervals.

I am walking slowly. Even so a teenager walks right across just in front of me. It’s not that she’s rude or provocative – I can tell. Just oblivious. I don’t exist for her. She can see me, but I look like a tree walking.

An uncouth man with his dog, as I pass close by, suddenly yells: "SIT! SIT DOWN!!!!"

It happens to me a lot when I’m waiting for a train or a bus. Groups gather – within inches of my face (yoohoo – hello?) and converse loudly as if I were a drainpipe, a street lamp or a tree. A teenager spotting a friend will roar right by my ear – “Oi! Danny! Danny! Oi! Danny! Oi! Oi! Oi! DANNY!

I am there but not there. I look like a tree walking. No need to moderate one's tone, or offer the respectful space of privacy one might give to another human being.


*Mark 8:24 ESV


Buzzfloyd said...

If it makes you feel better, I don't think you're the only one this happens to, it's a general thing. Also, the social bubble element is English. I found it quite disconcerting in the US how, in many contexts, any passerby would join in with a conversation that was loud enough for them to hear.

Pen Wilcock said...

Interesting about the US/UK difference! Yes, what intrigued me about walking by the sea was (exactly as you say) all the groups were indifferent to everyone except this in their own group - as if they were not there.
Happens on trains too - the by now all too familiar scenario of an individual speaking loudly on a cell phone.

gail said...

It's so interesting isn't it. When I was younger I just wanted to be inconspicuous. Now I'm an older woman, I don't think about it much and I rather enjoy the times when I can just be me on my own, which doesn't happen often. I do however really dislike when others are so rude as to not consider others peace and rite to not be accosted but noise of any description. Having said that I do enjoy giving others a smile and a "good morning" on my walks.
Do you think we have become so busy we have forgotten to teach our young ones manners and consideration for others. Here in Australia our schools are teaching the children that they are always right. What a delight it is to find children and adults, with lovely manners who are considerate of others. I don't mean to be a grouch, I just think it's such an important part of life and we seem to be loosing it.
Blessings Gail

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

“I love mankind ... it's people I can't stand!!”
― Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 5: 1959-1960

Pen Wilcock said...


I don't think the people are rude really. I suspect it's because we live in such crowded contexts nowadays that people's sense of when they are alone, and when they are in the presence of others, changes.

Jenna said...

My latest park trip was a study in cell phones. So, so many families out--it was an odd fabulously warm day here in the Mid-Atlantic. I took the Munch to the city park and was dismayed and discouraged about all the parents there on their phones instead of being present with their children. I wanted to run up to them and say, "Don't you get it? They're only little this little while! TRY to imagine how important this is right this moment so that when you're old maybe they won't be glued to their cell phones!" *calming self*

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes. As the macrobiotics people so accurately put it, "The bigger the front, the bigger the back."
Cell phones are great for family outings - I all too well remember family shopping trips when mine were teenagers, standing at central locations like a herding collie, making sure everyone knew where everyone was.And cell phones have made life safer - I remember car break-downs in the old days; trying to get out into streaming traffic, trying to find a house where someone would let me use their phone. And when my girls were younger, when we first had cell-phones, I remember one of them going off camping on her own to attend a sailing course, a bit scared: it was good to be able to send her a reassuring text to say "Goodnight" and learn she was safe.
But - the bigger the front, the bigger the back . . . they certainly do have disadvantages!

gail said...

Yes Pen, I was too harsh in my comment and I think you might be right. Perhaps I should have written unaware. A much more gentle word.
I was at a funeral a while back and yes, after everyone had been reminded to turn their mobiles to silent, a loud ring went out in the middle of the service. Then again we were at a prayer meeting the other night and one gentleman's phone rang and he answered it and began speaking while removing himself from the room. Unaware, yes I think so.
Blessings Gail.

Steve Miller said...

As I am walking near my university, a voice just behind me, almost at my left or right ear, cries loudly "Hello!". It's always a young voice, and not one I recognise. Perhaps it is a student who knows me from my classes or the university chapel? I used to turn. Now I guess first that it is just a young person answering a mobile 'phone.

Pen Wilcock said...

Gail - oh, gosh, that exact thing happened at a librarians' conference where the Badger and I were recently speakers! Had to marvel, really! xx

Steve - I'm always tempted to say "Hello!" back, equally loudly. But I know it would only be annoying . . .

Buzzfloyd said...

The social bubble also happens in cars, where people behave as though they were invisible. It's a fairly common thing observed by anthropologists in different contexts. On such a crowded island, privacy is a gift we give by ignoring each other. I suspect the main issue here is a failure to recognise an appropriate volume of speech. I think a lot of young people are used to having to shout to be heard!

I may be going out on a limb here, but I'm going to disagree about the phones at the park. It's a comment I hear fairly often, and I think it requires seeing through a wider lens.

Many parents, like me, spend almost every minute with their children. Maybe the parents in the park have spent hours already being present with their children, maybe they've read a million books, played a million games, watched a million special tricks, wiped noses and bottoms, fetched drinks and food, mediated conflicts, helped with reading and music practice, visited a neighbour, been shopping... You just don't know how they've spent the rest of their time.

So, before they run out of inner resources and start becoming ragged and snappy with their kids, is it really that bad, after taking them somewhere where they can play safely and leave their parents in peace for five minutes, for the parents to have some time out of their own? Or to take the moment when they can finally deal with those outstanding admin tasks without a toddler's 'help'?

Parenting young children is hard work and many parents don't have a lot of support. A parent on their phone in the park may be doing what it takes to be present for their children when there isn't a wonderful outdoor area full of play equipment for them. Yes, they're only this little this once, but they're also this little 24 hours a day.

Pen Wilcock said...

Good point.
I've travelled on buses where mothers talked on the phone the entire time completely ignoring their children, and seen plenty of parents threading their child as though s/he were basically a bag on shopping to be dealt with rather than a companion. But they didn't need a phone to do that! Just absent, unresponsive, no communication except barked instructions.
Maybe there's a balance to be struck - time for others, time for oneself - and always to remember in the small snapshots of lives seen out and about, the whole picture is never revealed.

Anonymous said...

I think, in general, middle and past middle aged women achieve an interesting sort of invisibility in our current culture. In my late fifties, I used to counsel in a residential men's rehab facility, and could walk through the men's lunchroom completely unnoticed. Because of that, I ended up taking all the younger staff women's trays back for them as they found themselves being uncomfortably observed and commented on instead of ignored like myself. An observer/introvert by nature, I found it sort of amusing. That said, I think our transition towards texting and facebook have harmed our ability to communicate and connect greatly as a society, and that people are therefore connecting in less appropriate ways that are not as socially comfortable to older folks have been without the electronic devices longer.

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh yes, DMW, I can observe just the same thing! These days I can go anywhere unremarked, as though I were not there. Two of my daughters work down near the sea, and during the summer like to take their lunch sandwiches out to sit on the beach - where their peace is ruined by a constant procession of men commenting and approaching them. Sometimes I feel disappointed by how much of what we are and do is governed by basic biology.

Buzzfloyd said...

I don't think that's biology, I think it's learned behaviour. Not all men feel compelled to intrude aggressively on young women's space, but many have learned it as part of being a man. This sort of thing is why I feel increasingly able to identify myself as a feminist.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thinking about it, I guess you're right, because I can imagine men of different cultural backgrounds behaving differently from each other. x

kat said...

I know what you mean about this intrusive loudness, it often makes me wince, and then tell my inner self, "oh don't be such a grumpalump"!

I wonder, do we feel it more as we get older, or are we quiet souls just more aware of intrusions on our boundaries?

On a more frivolous note ... perhaps you are really an Ent in disguise :-) xxx

Pen Wilcock said...

I think I may be. And I like the word "grumpalump", a lot! xx