This was day four of vacation, and I'd been pretty much fine with the fact that my cell service at the camp was sub-par at best. We'd learned a while back that driving to the library parking lot about a mile down the road and siphoning off the place's Wi-Fi signal at least enabled you to check email or make a few calls. And I did need to call Dan (not able to make it to Maine this time around) and his grandparents, who live nearby and had invited me to stop by and visit.
The story is long and ridiculous, but let's just say that I learned to never idle your car when it's low on gas and parked on quite a steep hill. All of the fuel will pool at one end of the fuel line, and at some point your car will think it's on Empty before it really is. Your car will stall, you'll have to call your mom to get the kids and then call AAA and wait for a tow truck, along with explaining to the library lady why your car is stalled dead in a not-completely-out-of-the-way place in the parking lot. You'll have to apologize and give sheepish looks to locals annoyed at some out-of-stater who doesn't know what they're doing, and you'll have to wait while the tow truck driver fills up the car with gas only to realize he needs to get MORE gas, and finally on round two, the car roars to life and you crawl out of there with your tail between your legs.
This is not the type of thing anyone likes to deal with on vacation. A few years ago while in Maine my car battery had died in front of a Dunkin' Donuts in a nearby town. Fortuitously the truck parked next to me had jumper cables and we were soon on our way.
Not this time. Once the kids were back with Gramma I had a 45-minute (at least) wait in the parking lot, keeping an eye out for AAA and to make sure no one smacked into my car.
Standing there, crunching around on the gravel driveway for a few minutes, I wondered what to do with myself. And maybe because I was on vacation, and maybe because I was just tired of it, I realized I didn't really want to sit there looking at my phone, scrolling endlessly, catching up on the craziness of life, of the world. I wondered what would happen if I just sat, and looked, and listened.
For some reason I thought of the Little House on the Prairie books. I remembered a scene when they are working in the fields in the summer. I thought about what it would be like to measure days by the sun, by the chores that needed to be done to survive. I thought about a life when there were fewer man-created sounds and wondered how much we miss when we are always looking down at a screen.
I closed my eyes and listened to the wind rustling through the trees. I breathed in. I looked straight across from me and saw this:
Now I was hooked. I walked very slowly, trying to see with a different set of eyes. And what I saw, in this little, dusty parking lot in a tiny town, was amazing.
I realize that this little exercise was made easier by being in a quaint spot in small-town Maine rather than, say, a Wal-Mart parking lot. But I still think there is something to this. I wonder: what are we missing? What are we missing when we're always plugged in, drowning life in front of us out, even if it's unintentional or sometimes necessary?
Maybe we're not missing a beautiful scene. Maybe it's our kids, who want to play catch. Maybe it's someone who looks lonely, who needs a smile, or even (yikes!) a conversation.
Maybe it's life, right in front of us, and the ability to be present in it.
And so, yes, this whole issue with the car was very silly and rather annoying. But I'm kind of glad I ran out of gas, parked on a sloping hill, in a spot that was prettier than I could have ever imagined, had I not been stuck there.