I like to people watch. Always have and probably always will. My best people watching happens when there is a lot of sitting around involved -- like in a doctor's office waiting room or at an airport gate (especially when there is a big delay.) I've also done some great people watching work on vacations -- you know the kind where you see the same people at the pool day after day and get to know them from afar (or at least think you are getting to know them.)
My imagination often gets the best of me as I study the relationships between the engaged couple (she has a diamond ring on her left ring finger but his fingers are naked) or the grown siblings and their children (they all seem to be getting along so well.) I become fixated on plotting out the family tree. Who are the sisters and who are the sisters-in-law? Which cousins are the closest and who looks like who?
I still remember the faces of people I've watched from years ago. There was the "senator" a nickname I gave to the stately looking and seemingly charming man who seemed to breeze through life (or at least his vacation in Hawaii) with his wife and big brood of kids as I sat next to my new husband on our honeymoon nearly 16 years ago. I pretended to read my book under an umbrella while actually spying on the "senator" and his family behind my oversized sunglasses.
I also clearly recall the newly pregnant young woman from my OB's waiting room who gave her own mother a giant hug upon learning that she was in fact expecting. I hid behind my People Magazine almost 7 months pregnant with my now 9-year old daughter who I would name for my late mother. Both women glowed. I smiled, went back to skimming "Star Tracks" but really imagined what it would be like to have my mother by my side upon learning I was first pregnant. I was a little (OK maybe a lot) jealous.
I never really knew what to do with these feelings of envy or where to put my over active imagination of other people's "perfect" lives.
Then somehow, slowly and over time, my perspective shifted. I grew up, lived more life, had more experiences, talked to so many people, heard their stories and stories of their friends and families, acquaintances, read the papers, watched the news. I came to understand what seems so obvious to me now.
No one's life is perfect -- not even the pool side charming "senator's" life. And who knows what life -- real life -- was like for that family of grown siblings and kids when they went home from their vacation? Who am I anyway to pretend to understand the real deal behind that once newly pregnant young woman and her mother? I hope they have all found some kind of happiness and fulfillment in their lives. But I also know they are bound to have had some crap (for lack of a better word) in their lives.
We all have crap -- myself included. And anyone who says they don't have crap in their life is in fact full of just that. Figuring this out, for me at least, has just been part of growing up, getting older, approaching middle age (yikes!) You begin to understand that no one goes through life unscathed.
The key to it though, I believe, is in the dealing with the crap. Accepting it as your own, living with it, trying to make the best of what you have, counting the good stuff in your life as your blessings still knowing that you will have more crap as you live more life. All the while also understanding that other people (even the ones who may seem to look perfect from afar) have their own crap and that they deal with it in ways that work (or sometimes don't work) for them.
None of this real life crap can be uncovered while observing someone in the Delta Sky Club or the Starbucks nook of the hotel lobby. You are merely seeing a very thin sliver of a life. Sure it's fun to imagine what that full life is like, and believe me I still people watch with the best of them. But now I pause and remind myself about the full picture of life -- those that I imagine and that of my own and the people I love. It puts it all in perspective and provides a much better picture too.