One of the great things about traveling is anticipation. I look forward to seeing a new place – however briefly. And meeting up with workmates I enjoy. And the spontaneous art I create. Most of all, I cherish coming home.
These bench outings, too, are filled with expectation. I love the improvisational nature of heading out onto the streets of a city or town, not knowing what it will give me in return for the investment of my time.
Today, under brilliantly blue skies and into spring-like weather, I explored downtown Atlanta with high hopes. With any luck, I’d find something Christmassy along the way.
High as my hopes, a Ferris wheel greeted me as I entered Centennial Olympic Park.
But the park itself was a disappointment. Plenty of benches – but many of them were occupied with sleeping old men. Without running water in the fountains or green on the trees, it was a sad landscape. Even a snowman display looked a bit odd and mildly creepy.
Other parks were the same: tired old men and little else.
I admitted defeat at the final stop, a corner square framed by a wall of water, where I settled for watching guys play what I might describe as High-Intensity Profanity Chess, judging by the loud conversations.
And interacting with this lively guy, who was convinced I was a reporter and posed for the newspaper article. He was entertaining, though a tad scary. Especially when he started telling me about his half-brother Jesus walking on water.
For me, there was no great Aha moment in the afternoon's wandering. No gripping realizations. Just the pleasure of being fully present in a place and time.
Here’s the thing about anticipation: you can’t guarantee the actual can match the expected. And maybe that’s good. Because sometimes what shows up, though unexpected, is better than what we’ve convinced ourselves we want. We might desire what is wrapped tidily and prettily in our mind’s eye when what we really need arrives wrapped in something far more ordinary. Like swaddling clothes.
If these Benched posts have taught me anything, it’s to look for the quiet, small surprises that usually go unnoticed.
But then, either to reward me or contradict me, I received this gift: as I walked back to my hotel, I turned a corner and discovered a giant wreath, radiant in a shaft of late afternoon sunlight. Stunningly beautiful.
The ordinary and the spectacular. The glorious brought down to earth.
I guess I found something Christmassy after all.