A really neat part of being on vacation is people watching. Especially if you’re in a city like Santa Fe. Especially if it’s the “opening up” stage, with businesses propping doors wide open; restaurants, museums, and galleries posting “Welcome back” signs. “No mask if you are fully vaccinated, please respect the needs of others who are wearing masks.”
Mind you, it’s been twenty months since I’ve been around and among large groups of people. I am doing some major people watching. First off I notice smiles. Closed mouth smile, open mouth with lots of teeth, grins where body language and mouth and eyes express delight. Couples, families with teens and toddlers in masks. Singletons, eyes on the cell phone using the navigation tool of trust that the oncoming pedestrian traffic will “part the waters” for them, so to speak.
Santa Fe is a Tourist Town
Folks have come to celebrate, be seen, and spend. Up and down San Francisco Street shoppers are wearing clothes they probably haven’t worn in a year-the good stuff-crisp white slacks, glittery sandals, jewelry, make-up. I know I am and it feels fun.
Long hair, short hair, rainbow color hair, no hair. Jeans, capris, long dresses, gauzy white skirts with sheer white tops, halters, jumpsuits, shorts, t-shirts, robes. Jewelry, body piercings. Sneakers, sandals, cowboy boots, stiletto heels, barefoot. It’s a visual runway of styles.
Last night, my sweetheart and I were out for an after-dinner stroll, window shopping, nodding and saying hello to passersby.
Storylines While People-Watching
I make up storylines for some. “They’re new in the relationship. See how close together they are?” “She’s tired. The kids are whining.” “She’s late. New job. She’s dressed nice, but rushing and worried she won’t look put together for work.”
A group of four mature-age women are coming towards us. “Hello.” “Hello.” They look fit, stylishly dressed. It’s a swirl of colors going by. Blue silky top paired with light pants, beige sandals, gold earrings. A scarlet shawl on one, a print scarf on another, white capris with a colorful trimmed top. They seem happy. “Girlfriends. Vacation, maybe reunion, deciding where to go for a drink.”
Just seconds after we pass each other, I hear a chorus of “Oh No!” Distress signals loudly in those two words. Hank and I turn to see one of the women has fallen and is on the sidewalk-an incongruous splash of scarlet and white spread on a dusty sidewalk. Her friends have clustered round her like colorful flowers bending over a broken flower. They help her up. She stands up. She’s tall. “I’m OK.” Her friends are patting her, dusting off her shawl, stroking her elbow. “Are you hurt?” Under her attractive face there is a strain, like part of her is asking, “Now how did that happen? Am I really OK?”
Hank and I have rushed to the edge of the cluster. I have my cell phone out ready to call 911. “Catch your breath,” I say. She looks like she might react like I would. Just up and dash off without checking in with myself first. “Catch your breath before you start walking again.”
The colorful flower cluster is loosening up. They must sense she is OK. Nothing broken. Not dizzy.
Hank and I back off and I hear myself say, “It’s OK. Her friends are with her. She’s not alone.” The concern and kindness of her friends will protect her and she will know she really is OK.
This got me thinking of the simple kindnesses people do for others. The owner of the breakfast place here in Santa Fe who goes around to each table of diners, “Everything OK?” He wears a mask but his eyes are smiley.
The man we met on the pool deck on full moon night who took time to tell us of great places to eat here in town.
The coffee my husband makes for me before he makes his own. The way he walks on the street side of the sidewalk-old-fashioned chivalry. Yet I think he knows I’ll link my arm in his to keep us together.
Maybe some of these kindness acts are planned. Maybe they are spontaneous. Even if it’s planned don’t you think the repetition will make it a habit? A kindness habit. Kindnesses build safety and trust and make it easier to pass on the next kindness. A kindness ensures both the giver and receiver will benefit. They might smile. They might end up talking to each other. They might become friends. Who knows where their kindness will take them?
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a Zoom mic.