How to Miss the Obvious in Four Easy Steps

Ash-throated FlycatcherSometimes, it’s too easy to miss the obvious.
 “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” 
1 John 3:17
The wind pushed against the door of my car as I tried to get out so I could fuel up before the weekend. I pulled out my smart phone to check the weather app and see why it was so windy. “Hmm,” I thought, “it’s crazy windy and no one has even issued a wind advisory.”

The wind caught the door and slammed it shut just as I pulled my purse out. “Good thing the door didn’t chop my purse in half,” I grumbled to myself as I rummaged for my debit card and tried to keep receipts out of the wind’s greedy grasp.

The wind whipped my hair in my eyes, along with bits of dry desert debris as I finished punching in the numbers and selected the correct grade of gas before going inside to get out of the wind.

As I placed the nozzle in the fuel tank, I glanced towards to doors to the convenience store and wondered why two people had stretched out for a nap right in front of the double doors. Ms. Judgy McJudgerton jumped into my brain and started haranguing. “Must be drunks. I’ve never seen that around here before.”

Crazy.

Wait.

Two people stretched out for a nap in front of the convenience store? I noticed a man hopping out of his parked car and rushing towards the two people, so I pocketed my phone and followed his lead.

An older woman and an elderly man lay at right angles to each other. As I arrived, the woman rolled over and asked the man, “Are you ok?” He moaned a little in response and the other bystander and I looked at each other—unsure what to do next.

The woman stood up and attended to her companion and I did what I do best in times of crisis—I started picking things up. The man’s glasses had fallen off his face, and a pair of reading glasses lay in two parts off to one side. His slip-on shoes had come off in the fall, and his cane had landed a few feet away.

I handed everything to the lady and she mumbled something about bringing the car up. By this time the gentleman had sat up. “Are you all right, sir?”

He mumbled something, and I couldn’t tell if he had sustained an injury or if perhaps he suffered from Alzheimer’s. “It’s pretty windy today,” I yammered, moving in front of him to block the wind. He nodded and started groping for his shoes. I handed them to him and said, “You must have fallen pretty hard—your shoes came off!”

He nodded again and slipped his shoes on with shaking fingers. About this time an employee came out and wanted to know what had happened. I shrugged and said, “I think maybe the wind blew them over.” In reality, I had no idea how they ended up on the ground.

A newer grey Mustang pulled up next to us, and the man’s companion got out. I turned to open the passenger door and the other two people helped the gentleman up.

“Are you sure you’re ok?” the employee asked as the woman got into the Mustang. She nodded and started the engine. As she drove away, an uneasy feeling settled around me.

I returned to the car to finish my purchase while the incident niggled at my mind. Had the man passed out? Should we have called an ambulance? What exactly happened? Did they bump into each other and the wind pushed them over as they strove to recover their balance? What were they to each other—husband and wife? Father and daughter? Caretaker and patient?

If only I paid closer attention to my surroundings, maybe I could have helped before it happened. If only I knew how to ask better questions, I would have come away from the situation feeling as if I’d actually been of service.

Finally, I realized that my disquiet arose from my failure to see the obvious and a strong conviction that an oft-repeating scene had played out in my life once again:
Someone falls.
I notice and judge.
I go around and pick things up and offer platitudes.
The judgmental questions linger until the episode fades.

I wander around in my own world and completely miss the obvious— fellow travelers need my help. Click To Tweet who struggle to make it through each day, the children of my friends who screw up and need my love and prayers (not my assumptions and judgment)?

I’ve gleaned four tongue-in-cheek tips for missing the obvious from my recent experience:

1.  Don’t look. If I don’t see it, it probably isn’t happening, therefore, there’s no need to worry about it.

2. Stay tuned to technology. Without Facebook and Twitter and WhatsApp, we’d have no idea how people really feel and remain clueless as to their inner turmoil.

3. Judge first, ask questions later. I’ve seen enough crime TV shows to deduce the inner workings of other people’s minds. My first assumption is usually the best.

4. Wait until someone else helps before you join in. Other people probably know more than you do—most likely they have the situation under control and your offers of assistance will just embarrass the other person.

What about you? Do you have any tips for missing the obvious that I’ve missed?

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Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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