A concert band, of which several of my friends are members, recently performed at the Bethany Beach bandstand. Their performance, coupled with the sound of the ocean, made for a delightful evening. As they played, I couldn’t help indulging in a habit I have had for as long as I can remember: People watching.
In order to best serve our clients, we psychotherapists become skilled at seeing patterns and trends. That evening was no different. As the band started to play, I watched as the people on the boardwalk quickly divided into four distinct groups. The first group sat up close, listening and watching with rapt attention. The second group stood behind the seats, refusing to sit, but still watching and enjoying all the same. The third group did not stop as they passed by, but observed curiously and quietly. The fourth, and smallest, group (made up of teenagers) also continued to walk, but called attention to themselves by making loud, disruptive noises.
I couldn’t help but find a metaphor for real life in this fleeting moment on the boardwalk. Many people approach life like those in group one; making the most of every moment. There are people I know, right here in Bethany Beach, who fall into that category. Whatever they do—sell real estate; work in or own a medical office, a restaurant, a store, or whatever—they are fully engaged in whatever they do. It is apparent that the love they have for their work is a manifestation of their love of life.
Group number two, if you remember, stood toward the back, not taking a seat, but still thoroughly enjoying the show. I see so many people who take pleasure in life, but are guarded about engaging themselves too deeply in their relationships or their jobs. Though this is not a bad thing in itself, I usually discover, down the line, that these people might, at some time in their lives, have been hurt or rejected. Though they live their lives as fully as they can, they approach commitment carefully and with a bit of apprehension. Though a measure of caution is never a bad thing, taking a seat up front is something they would never feel comfortable doing.
Group number three could, frankly, have fallen into any of my little subcategories. Maybe they were in a hurry to be somewhere. Maybe they just didn’t like the music. Either way, my take (and I really need to have one, or this column is going to be a lot shorter than usual) was that perhaps they were unconcerned with new experiences, or had no curiosity about things with which they were unfamiliar. Rather than ‘fear of the unknown,’ maybe ‘lack of concern for the unknown’ says it best. Or, again, maybe they were just late for dinner.
I was most fascinated with group number four. Though their disruptive behavior was typical of people their age, their need to distract, and diminish others’ pleasure, was intriguing. When little children fight over toys or other possessions, they often adopt the attitude: ‘If I can’t have it, nobody can!’ We grown-ups see variations of this all the time, in the form of life-hating terrorists, vandals, and people whose fear or ignorance of something unfamiliar is evidenced by bigotry and violence. Now, I know, of course, that a few vacationing teenagers, benignly making razzberries on the boardwalk, do not, by any means, terrorists make. But, on a larger scale, it is a reminder that we share this earth with a few who make it their business to destroy what others value, simply because they can’t (or are not allowed to) have it, or, for whatever reason, don’t make an effort to attain it.
Love of life includes a curiosity and tolerance of all things different. It is the key to a happy existence. We spend too little time on this wonderful planet to waste it on fanaticism, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. All the worn-out object lessons and new-age platitudes aside, it’s just not psychologically healthy! It takes work to hate. Keeping track of everyone and everything you detest is stressful; and accomplishes nothing but the dubious satisfaction of a bad job well done, and misery for everyone else.
Do you have to sit in the front row all the time? Not really. Should you stand a little to the side, in anticipation of a quick getaway? Well, maybe, if it feels right. But don’t surrender to anxiety or a lack of understanding of the variety of things around you. Everything we encounter, whether we choose to embrace it or not, becomes a part of our lives. Give it a chance. If it gives you pleasure, and hurts nobody, let yourself savor it to the fullest.