“And I can see, hear, smell, touch, taste
“And I’ve got one, two, three, four, five
“Senses working overtime
“Trying to take this all in . . .”
—XTC, “Senses Working Overtime”
My senses are easily sated if not easily overwhelmed. And generally when one is happy, the others can take a hike. If there is a beautiful sunset on which to feast my eyes, I don’t need much else. I often need to close my eyes when I hear beautiful music or take in the scent of lilac. And when I’m eating Indian food, it’s best if the restaurant is on the plain side because if it’s too colorful, too sumptuous, I’m bound to get distracted.
That’s me. I’m a one-sense wonder–one at a time that is.
But that’s not Edgar. And that became abundantly clear to me last night as I watched him at a bonfire at his school’s 40th birthday celebration. Edgar is not a one-sense wonder. His riveted attention at this event proved it.
A bonfire is sensory overload for someone like me–it’s gorgeous and warm and crackling and smells like fall. Give me a bowl of mulligatawny soup with it and I’d probably faint. But for Edgar, quite the opposite happens. When all his senses are stimulated, he is engaged, fully engaged–as in sitting front and center, eyes fixed on the source of his happiness. While other kids were running and playing around the bonfire, Edgar did what is, let’s face it, uncharacteristic for him–he was still.
And I wondered who noticed, who realized that this boy whom the world occasionally and euphemistically calls “busy,” “energetic,” and–at a few unfortunate junctures–“hyper” was fully capable of staying in one spot, of paying attention. And it made me wonder about expectations and why the world so often has the same set for everyone.
Billie Holiday said, “If I’m going to sing like someone else, then I don’t need to sing at all.” Individuality is a gift to the world, but it requires careful observation, and it requires effort from the rest of us. As the mother of three and teacher to so many more, it is my most important charge–to pay attention to and nurture others’ individuality.
Really, what else is there?