Being There

Essays, Featured — By on February 25, 2013 at 3:05 am

giants2Two years ago I was sitting on a beach with Girlfriend. The sun had set and it was getting cold. We began to hear car horns honking and people yelling in the distance. I was worried at first, but then I remembered that the Giants were playing in the World Series that night. And I remembered that we were sitting on a beach in San Francisco, where the Giants are from. And I remembered what happens to cities when their team wins the World Series — parades and people dancing in the streets. And I remembered that I am a Giants fan, and I should be dancing in the streets too, and I got really excited. Girlfriend laughed at me.

That night turned out to be a favorite — All Time. We danced in the streets and drank free beer with strangers. We chanted the names of athletes we will never meet with thousands of friends we didn’t know. I smile when I watch the Giants play even now, because my mind just goes there. That night made baseball personal for me. It made the Giants mean something to me — something good.

Sometimes, you get lucky and you get a present from the world. For me, these presents are special moments — minutes and hours spent with special people or places. That night the Giants won the world series was one of these. I was happy and I felt human and I’ll never forget it. It changed me, a bit.

I got another one of these presents on a Tuesday night when Barack Obama got re-elected as President. I was in a room full of inner-city high school kids when we heard the news, and they went crazy. We danced in the room and in my car and they danced on the sidewalk up to their front doors. I drove home and my neighbors were dancing and clapping and shooting their guns in the air (no joke — that’s really what happens in the hood). Everybody was happy and the world was big, and we were all big, too.

I am mostly apathetic about politics, these days. There aren’t many politicians I get excited about. But Tuesday night I was happy. I was high-fiving with my neighbors. I danced a little. I smiled, and turned up the radio in my car. It wasn’t the politics that mattered, it was the people. Their dancing. Their smiles.

It’s so easy to forget that context matters. My head has this habit of getting so filled up with Opinions and Thoughts and Plans that there isn’t room for important things, like people or smells or jokes. The world we live in makes this worse. We can have 1,000 tabs open on our internet browser if we want, and we listen to music while we check our email and play angry birds and chat with our friends. It’s natural, now, for our brains to be moving in five or six different directions at the same time. It’s almost impossible for me to be present in any given moment, because there’s just so much to think about.

This is a problem because I am my happiest when I get lost in a moment. Yelling with strangers or sitting next to a fire late at night with people I love. But these moments, these gifts, are rare. They sneak up in-between days or weeks or months filled with busy. They find me there, and they bring me down to the Earth — the moment I am in. That is their quiet power. They reach up and pull me out of the clouds of and plop me on the ground, where my feet are, and where things are real. They open my eyes and make me see. That is why they change me. They change my perspective. They make things real.

It has never been easier for us to look at pictures of distant places or read magazine articles about problems or questions or hurricanes. We can talk about anything we want with anybody else in the world. We can take our minds wherever we want them to go, and then we can tell other people what we Think About It. This is cheap entertainment and it’s appealing because it does not require much of us. It does not get in the way of our lives, it does not ask us to move or change or work hard. But it does not change us, either. It does not grow us. It does not let us live.

Pictures disappear and articles have their shelf-lives. Opinions and debates and arguments and ideas are only as real as the screens we read them on. If we do not give them life, they will die. But you can give them life. You give your ideas life by living them. By finding somewhere to go, and going there. By being there once you get there. Do that, and your opinions will change, your politics will matter much less, and your relationships will matter a little bit more. You will live a real life, and so will your opinions.

If you let them in, these gifts, the ones that life gives us, they change you. They root in your heart and your brain and never leave. They change they way you watch certain T.V. shows or say certain words. They make you smile and think fondly about distant things, like the past or a special plate of food. They make you care about things. And caring about things, is what makes things real for us. Caring about things is what gives us life. And you start caring about things by putting yourself around them. By being there, and being there well.


Austin Thomas lives and works in Los Angeles. He works with a non-profit ministry mentoring inner-city youth, and developing young leaders.



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