Did you learn at some point in grammar school those three little words that were to be a prelude to safely crossing a major street: stop, look, listen? I know that I did, and they have served me well in other situations too. May I mention two of them?
Last Saturday was a perfect day in the country. The air was crisp, the trees were turning their autumn colors and we decided that it was the day for the annual trip to the mountains. We have been doing this for years, the Sister with whom I share an apartment and I. We pack a picnic lunch and drive up Ohayo Mountain into a tiny state park and just breathe in beauty.
This year was extraordinary, though. The park was almost empty and those there were incredibly quiet. The stream that flows through had only one fisherman and our favorite picnic table was waiting for us. We just sat and breathed in the atmosphere. The amazing stillness was almost palpable. One squirrel dashed across the grass, cheek bulging with an acorn or two, but no one else moved. It was just us and God’s beauty. We didn’t need to comment on it. We sat in suspended silence for a long time.
Sunlight on the tiny ripples in the stream, a golden leaf or two fluttering down to earth, and the presence of God. All we could do was stop, look and listen.
The other moment was less peaceful. I had boarded an AMTRAK train back to New York from Washington. It was crowded and I found myself sitting in front of a woman who was very busy on her cell phone. She wasn’t quiet about it either. I wondered if that was going to be my background “music” all the way north, but – life intervened!
We were past the Baltimore-Washington Airport stop when the conductor came by to collect our tickets. My conversational “friend” found hers and then discovered that she was on the wrong train. She had thought she was heading south to Norfolk. “Sorry, lady,” said the conductor. “Didn’t you hear the announcements?”
No, she didn’t. How could she, busily filling all the space around her with her rather unpleasant phone conversations? She departed, with imprecations and threats of denunciation to someone nameless, and to the relief of those of us nearby.
She must have been absent when they taught that safety rule in Grade One. I wondered about her listening skills.
So, pause for a moment to review that little motto: stop, look, listen. It fits many occasions.