I SEE You, San Nguyen

For the job-that-pays-my-bills, I visit stores that sell my company’s product. Since my territory covers the Boston area to mid-New Hampshire, I spend a lot of time in my car. In some cities and towns, though,  I have stores that are close enough together that I can park the car once and walk back and forth between them. It’s never a problem – well, except for that one time a young police officer stopped me with, “Are you soliciting, Miss?”

(He called me “Miss”!)

Anyway, today was one of those heavy walking days. When the weather is nice I allow myself a slower pace because I enjoy looking around when I walk.

When I’m inside the stores I need to visit I talk with the owners or managers for a bit, fill out a report on my cell phone, and take pictures.

I’d just walked outside of one of my stores and was taking pictures when a man stopped me and earnestly asked me to take his picture. I was a little confused at first; he spoke broken English and I couldn’t tell if he was trying to get me to take his picture or not take his picture. Normally, when other people are nearby they duck out of the way to avoid the camera, but this gentleman was trying to get my attention. I told him I was taking pictures of the store and he smiled cheesily then pointed to his chest and opened his arms wide in a “Look at me!” pose.

I took his picture, giving him a minute to assume his position as it appeared to matter to him. My noticing that point made me think. Why did I find it unusual, or why did I notice, that he needed a moment to think about his pose before I snapped the picture? People pose for pictures all the time – all.the.time. – and adjust themselves for pictures, yet this seemed different.

I got another thought: he might never get his picture taken. That would make this – this simple act of taking a picture – a big event.

Digital cameras and cell phones have made it possible for us to take as many pictures of as many things as we want to (without worrying about running out of film/flash or the time it takes to develop the pictures). And we do. We need only one picture for our profile on Facebook, and we can take thousands just to get the right one. We think nothing of whipping out the phone to take random selfies with each other, a coffee cup, or a burrito. Even my Facebook friends six times removed can see that I take great advantage of that opportunity.

That privilege.

And here was this man, asking me to take his picture.

Look at me!

I talked with him for a moment after I took his picture. I introduced myself and shook his hand – and then he took my hand and cradled it against his cheek. When we said goodbye he didn’t ask for money or anything; all he wanted was his picture taken. When I was a few steps away from him I turned back to look; he was still looking at me and I waved.

Look at me.

LOOK at me.

For all the enjoyment I get when I’m walking around, I know there are still some things I don’t see. I’m absolutely certain that on days that I’m rushing around for my ‘important’ busy-ness that I miss even more –

– like people.

Acknowledgment of one another is huge. It doesn’t hurt to greet someone when you make eye contact, or even greet someone before you make eye contact. People matter, and need to feel like they matter. Think about how you feel when you feel snubbed by someone you know, or how it feels to be ignored. Think about what it might feel like to be unacknowledged. Most of us question our existence in times of stress and tragedy; how much more would you question the Universe if you felt your existence went unnoticed?

I take pictures as casually as I breathe (another privilege I take for granted). How lonely does one have to feel to ask a stranger to take his picture?

It’s not like I will see him again, or exchanged phone numbers with him to text the picture to him. He will not get the picture, but I will have it.

San Nguyen, I am very happy I met you today. Even if we never see each other again, we are tied forever in that moment and right here.

One more thing …

I see you.







Facebook has this wonderful little feature that notifies you that “You have memories … to look back on today.”

I use Facebook to amuse myself first, posting whatever absurdity I’m thinking and all of the pictures I love to take; so I really enjoy that feature. For the most part, nothing I put up is in any way negative; I don’t do politics, I don’t air my dirty laundry (at least, not my dirtiest). It’s my playground. I say and post whatever I want. Because I can.

I post my blog on Facebook, too. My blog posts are a little different from my normal Facebook posts, because some of them are actually serious (just some!) and I write about me.

Today, Facebook reminded me about a blog I wrote one year ago today that was not just serious, but seriously sad (Exposing Myself). I remember writing it, and I remember exactly what I was going through; I was at a very low point over a breakup. It wasn’t even just the breakup that had me down, it was my attitude about how I felt I was (or wasn’t) dealing with it.

I went to open the link to re-read it and hesitated; I was concerned that I would read my own words and condemn myself all over again for feeling that low, or feel embarrassed that I let it all out, letting everyone see that I was as big as the idiot I had thought myself to be.

When I finally did read it, I actually smiled.

I’m not there anymore.

It’s been a long year, and I won’t get into the further insanity I let myself sink to (I don’t have to; I continued to publish it).

And in many ways, it’s been a very good year.

Let me backtrack a moment: I took a short break from Facebook after I posted that blog to try to re-center myself. I posted the blog with this introduction:

“Hello, friends! I’m not going to be playing here for a while, until can get my head out of my ass and accept the fact that I’m human. I’ll be off in a corner, hiding til I can get over myself. I will be back (because this is my favorite playground), and hopefully smarter. In the meantime, here’s something for you to line the birdcage with, or read along, accompanied by your tiny violins:
(cue dramatic exit)
Be well.”

(Now that wasn’t so dramatic, was it?)

I kept the break short so that I wouldn’t be inclined to wallow further. I continued to play as best as I could; still continued to take pictures and post them. But I would look at the pictures of me and all I could see was my sadness, even when I was smiling. I don’t know if anyone else could see it – not that it mattered; I saw it.

This picture I posted at the top of the blog was taken three days ago. I happen to think it’s a GREAT picture, not just because to me it’s one of my more flattering ones, but because I don’t just look happy, I am happy – and I see it.

This picture was taken just before one of my 30th high school reunions. I went to two high schools, and this one happened to be for the one I actually graduated from, in California. I hadn’t made it back to any of the reunions there, because I couldn’t afford the trip from Massachusetts.

But I did it this year.

I also took my kids on vacation to Maine last month. It wasn’t an actual vacation for me because I still had to work (although it was nice to be near the ocean), but I did it.

I did it.

I have a wonderful support system around me, in every way possible. Maybe I got help in certain areas, a boost in others, but ultimately it was what I did that made it all possible and good.

I don’t know when exactly it began to happen, but I began to enjoy myself again, fully. This was not a result of being able to get away, because you can never get away from yourself. This was a result of what I was doing on my own to make things happen, and to be happy again. Really happy, without wearing those other feelings.

My girlfriends were able to come with us to Maine –

Girls – friends – should always make it a point to do things like that, married or not; no one is or should allow themselves be defined by specific details of their lives, not marital status, not kids, not jobs. To be whole, we need to nurture every aspect of our lives, with equal focus on each individual facet. Be inclusive of all that we are. This and that.

Ok, off of that soapbox (for now).

While we were in Maine, I took a walk along the beach with one of them, and tried to explain as best as I could what I was feeling right then and there.

Basically, I was happy – and it took me a lot of words and a lot of different descriptions to be able to explain it to her, because while I was talking, I still wasn’t aware of what I was feeling. I did know that I felt good. And I realized that not only was I feeling happy then in that moment, but I was happy in general. That was a huge realization.

I did it.

I did it.

I did it.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, but it’s okay – actually, it’s more than ok. It’s good.

And *I* did it.

Any help I may have received for anything would not have mattered if I let my thoughts limit how much I enjoyed or appreciated anything.

Not only did I realize that I was happy, but I realized I had been happy for some time. I got excited about my work, began new writing projects, planning more, and just began enjoying life more – the little things as much as the bigger things. And I did it on my own. I’m still single, too. I did it on my own, proving what I already knew but couldn’t fully grasp: I am in control of my thoughts, my validation, my life, my happiness.

That most recent picture summed it up for me with my first thought the moment I saw it:


Now watch how far I’m going to go.



I’m looking forward to next year’s reminder on Facebook!

(How low did she go? You can view the train wreck from a safe distance here!)