Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I See You...

In the 1970 song "Everything is Beautiful", songwriter Ray Stevens echoes the words of 17th century clergyman Matthew Henry: There is none so blind as he who will not see.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as a result of a Twitter conversation with my friends Marci and Amanda coupled with a book I've been reading.

I live in London, Canada, a city currently in a state of upheaval due to proposed changes to our transit system. We are the largest city of our size without a rapid transit system of either light rail or buses running on a separated grade. And we are bisected by two rail lines. While the southern line has many over and under-passes (as there are 3 rails), the northern line, run by Canadian Pacific, has one rail that runs at grade.

In the 11 years that I have lived here, I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in a bus on Richmond Street, stopped in traffic due to a train blocking the road. To make matters worse, two of the city's main hospitals are on the north side of those tracks and ambulances sit in traffic, too. The proposed transit plans would see a tunnel built under the tracks that could also be used by emergency vehicles.

Amanda has been economizing and using public transit instead of driving everywhere. She is a naturally gregarious person and chats with fellow riders and the bus drivers, and one of the topics of conversation is the transit plan. To her astonishment, a fair number of transit riders and even DRIVERS say they are unfamiliar with the plans.

And that fact astonishes ME, because there's been no shortage of public participation meetings about both transit and the municipal plan that has transit at its centre, as well as television and newspaper coverage. But, more than that, there were information posters ON THE BUSES themselves.

The information posters were conveniently placed in dedicated frames attached to the door of the driver cubby, where they can store their coats in winter. It's one of the first things you see when you step on the bus.

But you have to actually LOOK at it in order to SEE it!

Which brings me to the conversation with Marci and Amanda. Marci asked how we make people LOOK at something in order to SEE the information?

And, of course, the answer is - we can't.

That made think of all the things we look at, but don't really see.

This introspection was brought about by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the acclaimed children's author, who died last month at the age of 51. A week before she died, the New York Times published an essay she wrote about her marriage and her husband. Having never heard of her before reading the deeply moving essay, I looked her up and discovered that she was not "just" a children's author, she had written some witty and insightful adult books, and was generally a "bon-vivant" - she lived very, VERY well!

I went to Kobo and found that her "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life" was on sale and downloaded it.

It is, indeed an encyclopedia of Ms Rosenthal's life, but I was struck by how much she saw in those ordinary things that we do each day. I have an odd gift for remembering, but Ms Rosenthal absorbed life and found beauty daily in the world. She perpetrated random of acts of kindness, and hosted a flash mob at the Millennium Park in Chicago in 2008.

Last Saturday was an almost perfect spring day despite the snow the day before. So I hopped on a bus to head out to shop for groceries. I had forgotten to charge my iPad and didn't have anything in my hands to distract me on the trip there or back.

In eight and a half years of making that trip to that store, how had I never noticed that the sign outside the restaurant Piri-Piri has the caption "Eat, Drink, Repeat" under the name? Or that the Portuguese Fish Market sells juices for home-made wine and lists them all on a board on the outside of the store?

I have been making a conscious effort to see the world this week as I continue reading Ms Rosenthal's book.  With some luck and effort on my part, I will continue to do so, it's not natural for me. I'd rather tuck myself into my books and games and music on my travels - maybe so that the world won't see me.

In our transit debate, it seems more and more that the people against the plan refuse to see the people who actually use transit. "Certain types of people" use public transit a downtown merchant said to the chair of the transit commission, and the merchants are certain that "those people" don't patronize their establishments. As one of "those people", I'm tempted to ensure that those merchants don't see a penny of my hard-earned money!

This morning, someone nearly walked into me because she was too busy looking at her phone to see where she was going.  Has our connected world made us look at things - and people - but not SEE them?

It seems so; and the words written by a man who could not have foreseen the existence of cell phones ring truer than ever:  we are willfully blind because we will not see.


Amy Krouse Rosenthal got less time on planet earth than I have had, and that's a sad thing. But her publisher has found a way to honour her spirit, and you can join in. Visit this web page to learn more:

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