Sitting in the audience of “Mamma Mia!” the other day, I found myself watching the members of the ensemble rather than the leading players. Even when it was only Mamma on stage, my eyes wandered to the orchestra, the audience, or the set pieces. Not that the actor playing Rosie wasn’t wonderful, but I guess I felt like I’ve seen leads belting out soulful tunes enough times to know how it looks. I was more curious about all the other stuff going on in the room – how the lights were fading or changing colors, or how that big bunch of flowers had been hung from the rafters.
Lately I’ve found myself less and less interested in the “main attraction” of the day and more captivated by the background, the periphery. I’ve seen enough glitz, been distracted too many times by the new, bright, red or shiny thing, the loudest voice, the fastest car. I’m bored by it. Let me see the people behind the scenes putting it all together. The roots under the roses. Rather than reading about any First Lady, I’d like to read about one of her assistants, or better yet, someone as far away from the White House as possible.
At first I thought this was just an anger response to the news cycles, where certain people now throw out constant distractions via Twitter storms – while the much more interesting stuff is buried at the bottom of page 8 or 20 minutes into the newscast. That’s probably part of it. But it’s also probably just due to aging – slowing down, recognizing I’m past the halfway mark, wanting to savor more of what’s happening in real time.
I read differently now, listen to music differently. It’s possible I’m a better driver, too, since it doesn’t take so much effort to force myself to be in the present and pay attention. I’m grateful to be growing more patient with my son, whose disability keeps him ever obsessing and vocalizing about his narrow interests. Relax, I tell myself. One day, you’ll miss his chatter, when he’s settled into a group home and you don’t spend so much time with him.
Perhaps this tendency to slow down and be more thoughtful as we age is one reason why most cultures honor their elders. My father is quite content at 85 to sit by his large picture window and read all day long, alone with his thoughts. When I think of the collective wisdom of his generation, I’m humbled. So tell me more about life on the farm, Dad. Describe for me again how it felt to walk 6 miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways.
At the periphery, images so often unnoticed
now come into focus:
Ivy woven like mossy lace fills the ground
around crimson roses.
Rows of dancers dressed in white line the stage,
their paralleled legs a perfect arch
around the prima ballerina in pink.
Air waves mingle as I listen to the news,
the faint wailing of Mariachi
echoing at the edge of the dial.
I have begun to pay attention to the bass line
instead of the bleeding lead guitar,
to sing along with bluer harmonies;
To see the shades of light in those billowing clouds
daubed above Monet’s purpled haystacks
in the center of the golden frame;
To find each sparrow on the patio as distinct—
each stripe and patch of sienna or tan
made that much richer when set against
the gaudy scarlet of the cardinal in their midst.