Mind the Menagerie After the Gap

by | May 16, 2012 | Uncategorized

People hold on to yellow painted rails above their heads as the underground train moves forward to Russell Square. I lean against the window next to the door to keep my balance. An African man stands across from me, next to two cellophane wrapped suitcases. He holds one orange plastic hanger covered with a flimsy hanging bag. I wonder how far he travelled to get to this place where he sways on the train, if this trip is his first to England.

Further down the tube, a young woman sits in the middle of a row of strangers, extends a compact mirror cupped in her hand like a prop, and gently pats makeup around her eyes with fingertips.  She pencils dark brows with the precision of an artist, drawing as if she sits on a stool in front of a private vanity.  The audience of scarfed, booted, and head phoned strangers, they evaporate under the muse of her own reflection.

The same way I evaporate as a child sitting tired at the feet of my mother on the cold tile floor of the makeup counters at Famous Barr. I am lost among the sea of purses and high heels, to the promise of beauty in a bottle.

An Asian couple squish in the corner, chewing gum in tandem, her suede booted legs swinging over his. Both wear square glasses and shadow smiles. He kisses her flushed cheek, whispers in her ear and she laughs through whispered conversation inches from his face. They embrace; kiss long as if sitting on the couch in front of the television and empty wine glasses.

I thank God for the way he brings love together, hearts joining magnet, abandoned to the tug of the watching world.

The girl with the auburn ponytail smiles at the young boy dressed skinny black tie. He explains English culture, how only poor people do that. Her long bangs swish around her fair oval face, lapis blue eyes glance away shy, down at her worn black shoes.

I remember the boy that helped me when stranded on indefinite standby in England as a college student. How he helped a vulnerable girl navigate the tube, see Buckingham Palace and find a place to lay her head at night. The way God sent kindness in a moment of panic, to explain the way things work in a culture not my own.

When I step off the train, onto the platform where the music of a lone guitarist echoes through concrete caverns, I think about how I will get in my van alone, hum the tunes of Adele and drive to the grocery store in a few days. Wonder how He will teach me to be brave when I don’t have the luxury of learning from strangers that sway in the silence of busy chaos.

Linking with Imperfect Prose, God Bumps, Walk with Him Wednesdays, WLWW, WFW, Life in Bloom, Thought Provoking Thursday.

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  1. toshowthemjesus

    Brings back memories of Europe. There is much to learn about the connectedness of humanity on a train. And the kindness of strangers always surprises. I still remember an Irishman giving us much needed help on the train. And the station master at a tiny country train station bringing me a tray of tea. Thanks for sharing your trip!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I loved riding the train of diversity Christina, it grows me somehow out of my comfort zone as I watch people. We do have so much to learn from the way others live their lives. I don’t want to get stuck in my own world. Its been fun having these conversations with you knowing you can relate.

  2. kd sullivan

    Thank you for bringing me to England with you…your words draw me in so that I can see through your eyes.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Well, I accomplished my goal then Kim. Thanks!

  3. Paula

    Sometimes it is difficult to learn the lessons that are evident to some who share “the sea of humanity” offered up in the intensity of life in the major cities of our world. Diversity is alive and well. You are wonderful at transitioning those thoughts to words. And, I do have the vision of your sitting on the cold tile floor waiting and waiting and waiting!!!!!!!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Yes, I am sure you remember those days Paula. I got scary lost a few times.

  4. Stefanie

    Oh, you make me long to be back in what I consider my second home. I love Great Britain! In addition, once again I leave your space blessed.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I would love for England to be my second home, at least for a season. Love it there. So glad you made a visit Stefanie. Good to hear from you friend.

  5. joepote01

    Love your pic’s…both the ones taken with your camera and the ones illustrated thru your words!

    I’m a country boy, at heart, and feel most at home in places with not too many people. Yet, there is something about the feel of a big city, the diversity of people linked by the commonality of humanity…somehow it draws us into the sense of our place in the human race, doesn’t it?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      You say it well Joe. I find deep inspiration in the diversity of urban spaces but love living in the small quiet of intimate community.

  6. thisgalsjourney

    Oh man, I can so relate to all of this! Lovely.

  7. messymarriage

    You certainly have a way with words, Shelly! And I love to people watch too. There’s so much to be learned from that endeavor–especially in a foreign country. Thanks for giving us a little tour of England minus the cost of airfare! By the way, you must have grown up in the midwest. I know what it’s like to be a little girl, sitting at the feet of my mother in “Famous-Barr” too! 🙂

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Oh how fun to know you grew up on the floor of Famous Barr too. I used to love their hot pretzels and cheesecake. I grew up in St. Louis, then Tulsa.

  8. brian miller

    smiles…i love this…i enjoy riding the subway just to see the people and so your bring that to life in all your observations….and i love the bit of your own story as well how a stranger helped you on in a time of need…it beautiful and inspiring…

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Thanks Brian, your opinion means a lot. I look forward to riding on public transportation in Europe because I learn so much from watching people. My husband and I both just sit mesmorized by it all.

  9. Lisa notes...

    Isn’t it so interesting how God weaves people in and out of our lives, all around us, every day? The Master Weaver. I’ve never been to England–would love to go one day.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Oh Lisa, I hope you get to go one day. It’s so wonderful.

  10. Jean Wise

    I love how your described these scenes and drew me into them. We go to England Scotland this October and you have given me a different perspective to taking it all in with your words. Thanks

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I hope you will blog about your trip too Jean. It’s fun to see a place through the eyes of another. Our experiences are all so unique, even in the same place.

  11. Laura

    You are a people watcher. I am not surprised. I could sit for hours in the airport or train station watching and wondering about the stories of all those people going somewhere.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Me too Laura, I guess its the writer in us that stays alert to watching people around us and making up stories.

  12. kelliwoodford

    Shelly, your words cast a spell.

    Feels like I experienced every second with you.

    Thanks for the trip. Thanks for the pause.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Well your comment is what every writer longs to hear. Thank you so much Kelli. That means a lot to me.

    • dukeslee

      Indeed, “casting a spell.” Great way to put it, Kelli. I was right there, people-watching, along with Shelly…

  13. consolationofmirth

    A gift to the introvert is careful observation. Giving the mundane its beautiful due (John Updike). A wonderful trait for a writer.Your photos and words bring back memories. I do miss living there.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Love those words Heather and I am an extrovert with introvert tendencies! Probably because I married on and birthed two, introverts that is. I didn’t know that you lived in England, what a gift. Something I dream of doing some day.

  14. Emily Theresa Wierenga

    sigh. i could have read more, so much more… i love how you describe the world sweet girl. i too am a people watcher. i learn so much from their beauty. from yours. bless you.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Well, that means an awful lot from you, the one with three writing contracts. Thank you Emily.

  15. Alia Joy (@NarrowPaths2HP)

    Love the way you weave the words to form a voyage for the readers far away yet seeing each moment clearly. Stunning work.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Probably could’ve written more, my eyes were overloaded with perspective on those trains. Thanks for your kind words.

  16. Theresa

    I felt like I was on a little of your journey with you! I love how you allowed your observations to remind you to and teach you. Beautiful words!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      It was such a fun trip and I am learning through the comments that this is an experience many have never known, which makes it even more fun to share. Thanks Theresa.

  17. elizabethfstewart

    Your words were camera sharp images of the people you encountered. Beautiful!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      So glad you think so Elizabeth. I wondered when I decided to share this story if it was going to matter to anyone. Maybe we all have those feelings before we push publish.

  18. simplystriving

    Yes, I’m quite certain I felt it to the point that I was swaying in rhythm to the tube as I read!
    I am a people watcher. it’s a gift to me–the introvert, don’t you think?
    In college, I used to go to the airport to people watch in my down time. Back when you could sit in the International gate area without a ticket…
    thanks for taking me back there today, friend.
    Taking this with me: “He will teach me to be brave when I don’t have the luxury of learning from strangers that sway in the silence of busy chaos.”
    thank you.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Ya know, I am an extrovert and I have loved to people watch since I was little girl at my grandparents card parties. H and I found ourselves next to each other silent in observation more times than I can count. I think we learned a lot from those strangers, God was whispering in our ears during the stillness.

  19. Lori McClure (@lorimcspeaks)

    What a beautiful reminder to pay attention. Sometimes I get so lost in my thought that I miss opportunities all around me to see God. Lovely 🙂

    • Redemption's Beauty

      Oh, I am still getting lost in thoughts while I watch people . . .and making up stories in my mind. And hopefully, I am hearing Him speak to me too.

  20. Ms. Kathleen

    A beautiful read… I was there with you 🙂 Have a beautiful day.

  21. Deidra Riggs

    I love that bit about Adele at the end – the way the English singer will join you in the minivan as you go about the ordinary of life back home.

    One of the things I love about your writing is the way you let us see things the way you do. And your photos add a richness to your words. You give the people in your photos such dignity. Not that they aren’t dignified. I don’t mean it like that. You treat them with care and compassion. Guarding them just enough, yet showing us yourself through them.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      You know Deidra, I actually hadn’t even thought about Adele being English when I wrote that. I just love listening to her sing. But that is so awesome how it all came together, even when I wasn’t intentional. And your words to me, I have read them, well, more times than I will admit. Thank you, the encouragement is so helpful.

  22. Joanne Norton

    The pictures and comments reminded me so much of the time I have spent in England, just hitting a few places. One of the photos reminded me so much of Worcester that I felt I was in the shopping area. [I know it’s just normal views of so many places, but still… hit my heart since I miss it so much!] Hope you have a thoroughly blessed time.

    • Redemption's Beauty

      these photos were taken in Chester, Kensington, Piccadilly Circus and Edinburgh, Scotland. I took so many I am finding it hard to choose which ones to share on my posts. So glad they brought back happy memories for you.

  23. Alecia

    It amazes me how you capture in such great detail what you saw and experienced. Do you walk around with a notebook taking notes? 🙂 thanks for taking us along on your trip, your pictures and words are beautiful!

    • Redemption's Beauty

      I just absorb things like a sponge and sometimes I do write them down. And then I can’t remember what I needed at the grocery store. It’s weird. Thanks for your encouraging words though, they really bless me. Truly.

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