by Achim Nowak

Cultivate the EYE of the BEHOLDER

July 25, 2022

The news can be so grim some weeks, says Scott Simon. You may want to hear about something happy, even charming. I saw such a scene a few days ago, on vacation with my family in France.

Scott Simon is a best-selling author and the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. This is my Saturday morning routine: I work out with my trainer Chris at 7, hop in the car afterwards and head to Dania Back Shack for a tantalizing breakfast. And I listen to Scott Simon who comes on the air right at 8 am.

I love Scott Simon’s gravelly voice. It oozes authority. And boy, does Simon have a way with words.

There's a Paris restaurant called Tour D' Argent, Simon elaborates the morning of his 7/9 newscast, that's mentioned in the books of Hemingway and Proust, and inspired scenes in the film "Ratatouille," where a rat named Remy comes to live, and cook, in the kitchen.

Just across the street from the Michelin-starred establishment is the Rotisserie D' Argent, which my wife recalls from her student days in Paris. It has red-checked tablecloths, manageable prices, and rotisseries that churn like small Ferris wheels, spinning glistening chickens, filets of salmon, and fat slivers of potatoes that blister to an incandescent bronze.

Sorry to get carried away...

To keep going during COVID, the rotisserie has set up tables not just on, but across the street--on the Left Bank of the Seine, just above the river barges, and strolling, smooching lovers. What transpires is a great show. People order, and servers in bowties wait for red lights to halt traffic, and bustle across the street with grace and purpose. They dash back a few minutes later, hoisting icy metal buckets with bottles of blushing rose wine, and sparkling platters of roasted chicken or fish, spilling not a jot of au jus.

Sometimes, a server shoulders a tray and holds up a hand to hold back a car making a turn. Sometimes, they wave a car through with the sweep of an empty tray, like a matador with a cape.

I ordered an espresso at the end of our meal. Nicola(s), our server, nodded as if being entrusted with a mission from General De Gaulle. He waited for a green light to illuminate the crosswalk, dashed into the rotisserie, then out moments later with an espresso sitting on a metal tray like a precious pearl on a velvet pillow. When I called him a hero, he shrugged, which is what heroes do.

The whole scene, the small, great show on a street along the Seine, was a snapshot I will carry in my mind. Even when the world feels tumultuous and even dire, it is possible to find moments of art and delight in our everyday lives.

Yes. Simon has a way with words.

Easy to see the charm of the everyday moment when you’re on vacation in Paris, you may think to yourself. Harder in the middle of a distracted day at work.

Much data and evidence about events in the world IS grim. Catching the beauty of the everyday moment is our choice. Scott Simon reminds me of how critical it is that I exercise that choice.

Last Tuesday I step out of my apartment building and see my Uber driver across the street, waiting for me. He sports an outsized mohawk do and flashes an extravagant grin.

Gustavo is from Uruguay, I am from Germany. Within 30 seconds we’re talking soccer. Gustavo professes his admiration of German soccer. Has Uruguay ever won the World Cup? I inquire. 3 times, I learn, the last time in 1950.

We talk about the German 7:1 soccer rout of Brazil at the 2014 World Cup. Gustavo proclaims his love of Borussia Dortmund, one of Germany’s top pro soccer teams. I tell him I was born in Hagen, 20 kilometers from Dortmund.

I learn about Gustavo’s 2 sons. They play soccer. Are they good enough to play professionally? I ask. The oldest one, 22, does in fact play professionally in Europe.

You must be very proud of your sons, I say to Gustavo. He beams.

Gustavo drives Uber and also works as a physical trainer. I tell him about my work as an Executive Coach and my former side-gig as an Airbnb super host. As we chat, I find myself thinking about Gustavo’s American dream, and I find myself contemplating my own.

It’s a 12-minute ride from my building to the Ft. Lauderdale airport. It contained all the charms of Scott Simon’s Paris adventure.

The conversation was a choice. Every moment within the conversation was a choice. I am grateful for the 12 minutes.

The following night, I find myself sitting on the patio of the very savory Café Lucci in the Chicago suburb of Glenview. I’m with the Executive Leadership team of a manufacturing company, breaking bread and sharing stories.

Glenn, the fellow sitting next to me, has just purchased a 21-acre property that has its own shooting range. Steve, the fellow sitting across from him, is also an avid gun owner and hobby gun shooter, as is Alison, the firm’s VP of HR who is sitting across from me.

I suddenly find myself in a conversation with gun hobbyists. I have never had such a conversation before. We’re having this conversation 2 towns down from Highland Park, a week after the Highland Park Fourth of July shootings. I listen with fascination as I hear Glenn, Steve and Alison talk about the shooting ranges where they shoot, the many guns they own, the various type of rifles, and the guns owned by their family members.

You have AR 15s, right? Alison asks Glenn. He nods affirmatively.

So do we, Alison affirms.

I listen in silence. I have never owned a gun or fired one. I am a pretty skilled conversationalist, but this is unfamiliar conversational turf.

Is this conversation making you uncomfortable? Alison asks me.

I know nothing about guns, I say.

I suppose I was a little uncomfortable. And at the same time, I fully cherished being in an entirely unfamiliar conversation. This conversation had a rich beauty of its own.

Seeing that beauty was a choice.

I wrote a little book called “The Moment” a few years back. It celebrates the power of simple everyday moments, and our choice to notice and find meaning.

It need not be Paris. But thank you, Scott Simon, for the reminder. In a world where news is so frequently grim, some choices are always mine.

And yours.

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