Beneath Perceived Normal…


I’m not sure why this is, but the most normal I ever feel is when I’m dining out.  Perhaps that’s why I eat out so often – it’s just feels so good to feel so normal.  There’s something about sitting in a restaurant, where time slows down for me and I feel a kind of comfortable which doesn’t show up in my own dining room.  I look at all the tables, observe the people, I listen to the proximate conversations, and take inventory of all that normalcy.

There’s an exercise though, that I take myself through whenever I dine out.  It skews that perception of normalcy a bit, but not for very long.  It’s an exercise in judgment I suppose, or more specifically, a way to better manage my judgment.  As I gaze about a restaurant, and as I take it all in, I ask myself who am I really sharing that moment with…

There are usually couples seated around me, married or otherwise.  Maybe some business associates are discussing a strategy of change, or a plan to increase sales.  There might be a couple of old friends getting together for the first time in a while.  Two construction workers getting out of the heat for a bit.  Perhaps a blind date is taking place just behind me.  Those two, over there…?  An aging father is catching up with his adult daughter.  So many combinations and possibilities.

As I take it in though – all this normalcy, and as twisted as this may seem, I always ask myself, who among them is the spousal abuser…?  Which one cheated heavily on their or her taxes last year…?  Who spent the grocery money on cocaine earlier that day…?  Which one lives in profound depression yet covers it up with a relentless smile…?  Which one stole from the petty cash drawer at work yesterday, without thinking twice about it…?

Of course the answers to those questions never appear on the surface, and I’m grateful they don’t or I’d never dine out again.  All that normalcy just continues.  I guess that’s my point.  In a sea of perceived normalcy, the answers to those questions I ask myself are there, but they are hidden so deep beneath the surface that mining for them would be required, and that type of mining can’t be done by a curious man from a distant table. Okay, normalcy, carry on…

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Who among them…?

This may seem very judgmental of me – that I go through this exercise, and that I always do this when I dine out.  Statistically though, in a room full of 30 or so people eating lamb chops, southwest chicken salads, drinking iced tea, laughing between the small talk, and arguing over who will pay the check, at least some of those people might fall into some of those judgments.  And there is a reasonable chance, that a few of them will fall into even darker places.  It’s just never apparent though, who among the crowd smacked their child that morning, and subsequently sent him off to school with a little makeup on his cheek.

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What looks normal to everyone else…

Each morning in contemplative prayer, I remind myself is that my place is not to judge.  Behind every pair of eyes, I say to myself, is a heart, a soul, and a life’s worth of circumstances I know nothing about.  By 11:00am most days, I have judged my world up one side and down the other.  Then I’ll go to lunch, and I will remind myself once again that behind every pair of eyes is a heart, a soul, and a life’s worth of circumstances – my own included, reflecting back at me from the teaspoon to my right.  Yes, restaurants are a place of perceived normalcy for me, but I know better, my own self included.  Be well…  rc

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9 responses

  1. I often said Why be normal,that’s boring. After my own self diagnoses of perverse,neurotic conditions like many of us have, we’re forging our own original takes on what’s normal. Thank you for this exercise. I look forward to spending some normal time breaking bread with you,

  2. What lies beneath … some of it is ugly and some of it is very beautiful. Masks, we all wear them. Thank you for the reminder to think about what I am keeping from other people – is it something I am proud of or ashamed of? Who am I when I am unseen? As always, a lot to think on.

    • Thank you, for dropping in. Always makes me smile. Masks. Shells. Fences. Borders. Et all, it’s good to see beyond them with others, and live beyond them with ourselves. Yup…

  3. Another very thoughtful and interesting post, Roy, Thank you! As you, I sometimes catch my mind wondering about people I see and what’s going on inside. It’s probably best we don’t know.

    I was reminded of a Woody Alan move, I think Annie Hall, where in a first grade class, all the sweet innocent students announce what will be happening to them when they become adults It often was not pretty.

  4. I’ve been through a lot in my 47 years on this earth. You know some of what I talk about. But many, even closest to me, have no idea of the depths of my pain that I have grieved over. Still, there is always something I can be grateful for. I always find that there is someone who is hurting more than I, that could use a smile or kind word. I’ve showed up places to minister to others when inside I wish I could just leave this earth and be with my Heavenly Father. Paul sums it up like this in Philippians 1 –
    I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

    You never know when your call, a note, a hike, a text might be he one thing that makes a difference in that persons life. And, I also often find that when you yourself are down in the pits, by lifting someone else up – it’s hard not to be lifted up yourself in the process. It’s a natural law of love. 💞

    • As mentioned to you recently, you are as strong as strong gets, and deep down where it matters most. Yes, you have been through a lot. And in all you do on behalf of others, you undo — you tip the scales, so to say, in favor of goodness…

  5. I do the same – wonder about people & how they feel or what goes on in their head. I wonder about the older people I see still having to work & are they sad or happy about it. I wonder if they think about their life like I do sometimes AND I know from personal experience that everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about…. xoxo

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