Always Look Up

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I walk down the aisle of the ferry and see that only middle seats are left. It's OK. There's one in front that has a wide view of the sky. I can see the green-grey waters stirring ahead. It'll work.

I've just boarded from the San Francisco Ferry Building after a long and happy lunch with an old friend. I'm expecting a business call. I sit down, open my iPad with its wireless keyboard, place my phone on my thigh. I glance around. Most of the passengers are either gazing into or talking on their phones. I catch pieces of their lives.

"No, no, I'm OK. I'm just coming down with a cold."

"Will you actually make a profit after all this?"

"Well, do you want to get together this weekend?"


And then to my left, I recognize a man from my town just as he recognizes me. We say hi, and he moves in to a seat beside me as he places his computer bag on the floor. I ask if he's coming back from work; he asks me what I was doing in the city. Then I look down at my devices, poised for a ring or vibration.

And then, I realize: I don't really know this man. I've lived in the same town with him for probably a decade and all that I know is who he's married to and where he goes to church. I look back at my phone, then over to him. "What do you do?" I ask.

He smiles as he answers. He's warm and open. I discover he works in my industry, as a consultant. "No way!" I say. "We're supposed to make a decision today on that." He offers advice.

He talks. And he shares. And I ask. And we learn. Outside, beyond the summer-cold waters of the bay we pass brown hills and the industrial white blocks of the Rodeo Refinery. The blue sky is slashed with white.  A mother clutches a bag of taffy, a bearded man sits with his head slumped dead-asleep on his chest, a child shrieks.

We enter the narrowing throat of the Mare Island Strait towards our destination, toward our separate lives. I look at my phone, then up again. I remind myself to always, always look up.

With a Perspective, I'm Susan Dix Lyons.

Susan Dix Lyons is the founder of a medical clinic in Nicaragua. She lives in St. Helena.