The movement of water over a polished, tiled floor always fascinated me as a child. With the naïve eagerness of innocence, I would sit cross-legged and wide-eyed, watching precariously as rivulets of smooth, clear liquid slid gently from one groove to the next, a tantalizingly slow trickle that weaved intricate patterns as it went along, leaving a glistening trail for my gaze to follow until it resolved into a single, shapeless puddle. I wasn’t certain, at the time, what so enraptured my attention about the steady progress of the water from meager droplets to a full-formed body. I don’t think I really wondered about why; I was just too riveted by the seemingly effortless grace that enabled something that started off small and unnoticeable to grow into something that could actually made an impact. The same went with watching raindrops on a windowsill. Whether it was on the panes of the old family car or against the glass of the windows attached to my room, I was hopelessly infatuated with water of any kind. My gaze would remain stuck on droplets as they chased each other rapidly down the windows, my kid-side silently rooting for “my favourite raindrop” to win until it rolled off the bottom of the glass and I picked another random droplet to cheer for. It was good fun, and the repetitive motion was soothing and relaxing to someone like me. It was one of the few times I would actually willingly sit still – when I was witnessing water travel.
Eventually, I grew bored with watching water and turned my attention to homework and other more important things. I still “raced” raindrops when they pattered onto my window, but when my mom and I moved into an apartment where my room faced the hallways instead of the outside, that stopped as well. I don’t often tire of things, but for some reason, watching water ceased to hold any meaning for me as I grew older. I would skip over puddles instead of watching them grow and would irritatingly wipe droplets off of objects instead of joining in on their journeys. Perhaps it was because of my temperament. You see, I’m more of a fire person by nature, really. I’ve got an occasionally overly intense personality and a temper that threatens to blow up disastrously and has been likened to a very volatile volcano. When I get passionate about something, like a book or a topic of discussion, I get fiery and expressive about them. The same way, after a while, the fire sometimes burns out. I guess that’s sort of what happened with my interest in water – there was a spark, followed by a heated blaze, then it just sort of died down and fizzled out.
I sound a little like I’m romanticising the whole thing, but to me, the time I ceased to view water as anything more than a necessity for basic life and an occasional nuisance was the time I stopped appreciating the little things in life. We’re all guilty of that, in a way. We stop noticing the pigeons landing on the pavement, stop caring that if we squint just right that cotton-candy cloud looks uncannily like a cross between a dog and a clown, stop pausing at regular intervals to curiously reach out and touch a particularly vivid flower poking out of the hedge. Instead, we start walking around a lot faster than our legs have the capacity of carrying us, in consequence moving around far too fast for our eyes to fully register what’s going on around us. In the words of Sherlock Holmes, we see, but we do not observe. We give excuses like, “I’m far too busy”, “I’m in a bit of a hurry”, “I have work to do” – and then we bustle along away, completely missing everything around us, focused only on ourselves and the Very Important Work that we have to do as Very Important Adults. The childlike wonder we were born with, which makes us love everything in the world and become endlessly fascinated by all things even remotely new to our eyes and minds, dissipates, replaced instead by boredom and the need to act like Grown Ups and Responsible Adults. It’s not that we can’t see the beauty of everything around us, we just don’t. And that to me is something very upsetting.
Personally, I have always been the kind of person who notices everything around me and gets distracted by it. This probably also explains why I am extremely clumsy. I am simply not capable of walking down a crowded shopping complex without overhearing a million different conversations, observing what people are wearing, or taking an unconscious survey of the number of people there alone, with family or with a partner. If a girl looks remotely annoyed that her boyfriend has his eyes on another girl in a skimpy outfit on the other side of the polished shopping mall floor, I will see it. If a boy attempts to sneak a couple of candies into his mothers black probably fake Prada bag, oblivious to the fact that a little girl sitting nearby has noticed and is giggling about it to her father, I will notice it from all the way across the shop, where I’m standing behind a stack of magazines. If a waiter’s watch flashes from his right hand three tables away, I will observe and draw the conclusion that he’s probably left handed. And yet, despite the fact that I see all these things on a daily basis and do not possess the ability to focus on only one thing at a time, I choose to ignore the things I see around me. It’s not a conscious decision at all – it’s just something that has been hammered into me. I don’t have time to stop and observe that the butterfly with blue wings has a pattern on them that looks almost like a cat. I am simply too busy. I have things to write and people to meet up with and assignments to get done and university to get to – I simply don’t have time for useless extra bits of attractive-looking information that will add virtually nothing to my general knowledge or do anything that will help with the test I have to sit for today.
Why do I think this way? Maybe it’s because time flies so fast that I feel I have to move even faster to keep up with it. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Time flies, and life is so short. Granted, it’s the longest thing we’ll ever do, but when you really get to thinking about it, life is a painfully, frighteningly short thing. Think of all the beautiful things we miss on a daily basis when we dash by without so much as glancing at the world around us, all the sights and sounds and scents that our brain wants us to notice but we dismiss immediately as unimportant. That’s why I’ve made a pledge with myself. Despite the fact that I have a rapidly increasing workload and a lot of commuting back and forth to do, I will always make some time to stop and smell the roses – even literally, if I must, because roses are my favourite flower.
I’ve thought about this long and hard overnight (when I couldn’t sleep and just passed the time staring at the ceiling for several hours enshrouded in darkness), and I came to the realisation that it’s the smallest things in life that really make everything more fulfilling and wonderful: A genuine, honest smile from a stranger. Your favourite song playing on the radio and drawing to a close just as you pull into your parking spot at work. Taking that first sip of coffee in the mornings, or hot chocolate on a cold, rainy, lazy Sunday afternoon. Finding an extra five bucks in the pocket of that pair of jeans you haven’t worn for a month. When you wake up before your alarm rings catastrophically in the morning and can savour the glorious feeling of being able to go back to sleep again. Getting a curly fry in your order of regular fries. A sweet little text message that consists of no more than maybe ten words but still brings a smile to your face, even on the most stressful of days. What’s life, really, if we don’t enjoy the little things?
A few days ago, while I waited for the bus on a tiled pavement, it began to rain. Water fell into the grooves between the tiles and flowed slowly through the path paved for them. My eyes fell on them and a wave of nostalgia washed over me like a wave. I hesitated for a moment, then put down my social science textbook and drowned out all thoughts about homework. And just like that, I was back in my childhood days, surrounded by noise and bustling people but focused only on the slow travel of the water before me.
I think it’s because I finally realised that the things in life we tend to overlook are often the most beautiful.