american society, big ideas, ruminations

On Brown Houses, and Paying Attention

As we drove away last Thursday, we were interrupted by my mouth saying, “Hey, that house is brown.” And though this is a good demonstration of the power of my mouth to say things I don’t intend it to, that is not what this is about.

This is about noticing things. In Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, as young John Huff prepares to leave Green Town, he comes upon a suprise. A house with colored window panes. He questions his friend Doug Spaulding about the windows, provoking the following response:

“Darned old windows been there since before we were born. Why?”

“I never saw them before today,” said John. “On the way walking through town I looked up and there they were. Doug, what was I doing all these years I didn’t see them?”

“You had other things to do.”

“Did I?” John turned and looked in a kind of panic at Douglas. “Gosh, Doug, why should those darn windows scare me? I mean, that’s nothing to be scared of, is it? It’s just…” He floundered.”It’s just, if I didn’t see these windows until today, what else did I miss?”

And so it is with my brown house. I’m sure the house had been brown before I noticed it. And I’m nearly certain that I’d seen the house before to. But I’d never noticed it.

The logical follow up to this is, so what? Is life made better by knowing that there is a house in chocolate brown paint down the street? Is it better knowing that that a house has windows with colored panes?

It depends on what you’re after. Will knowing these things make you hundreds of thousands of dollars? Absolutely not. Will it inform your curiousity and encourage your sense of wonder? You bet.

It’s easy to lament America’s focus on money, or fame, or youth. To express disappointment with the way people walk, bike, or drive to work every day and don’t notice all the little things. The stress of earning a living is good reason to not stop and notice the butterfly floating by your window. But I assure you that if you notice it, you’ll feel less stress.

Watching water splash into a puddle. Watching the moon drift among the night’s clouds. Noticing the slight breeze that makes you aware of your skin. These are the simple wonders of life that I–and I know I’m not the only one–too often miss.

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3 thoughts on “On Brown Houses, and Paying Attention

  1. This is a great post. I live in NYC and constantly forget to look up, as I get caught in the hustle and bustle of this busy place. The tops of buildings are often the most beautiful.

  2. Pingback: Frozen Toothpaste » Thinking About Thinking

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