Sometimes it can be challenging or impossible to detect. One example is from an experience I shared with strangers at Lakeside Lab. I was on the dock, which surprisingly is usually empty there. The dock is shielded on one side by a steep hill, populated mostly by cottonwoods, sumac and all manner of prairie wilds. The other side stretches into the eastern horizon, an algae-covered mirror. On weekday nights like this one, there are few or no boats to interrupt the reflection of the sky that peeks back between the fluffy mounds of algae.
I was laying on the dock, half-stretching, half-meditating. I looked over towards the lake, to see two figures stepping out of kayaks onto a sandbar barely submerged beneath the water's surface. From a distance, the duo appeared to walk on water. They milled about the sandbar for a bit, and I watched them move like stickbugs, silhouettes rorschached in the lake's reflection. I closed my eyes and opened them. The air was like peaches and the breeze was tinted with freshwater. The two were standing so close now, they had become one four-legged totem in the dusk.
The romance of it was thrilling. I did the only thin I could do: played "Fade Into You" by Mazzy Star on my phone speaker and waved my lighter around, hissing to myself, "yes. yesssss. love is good." I enjoy romance the most when it is adjacent to me. Direct participation is a tornado.
All week, I wondered who the sandbar lovers could be. I stared at students and interns. Who had a glint in their eye?
10 days later, I played Catan with four others at the Lab. One of the players flashed her shiny new engagement ring. She was a junior in college. She told us how she had known the surprise engagement was coming.
"My mom asked me how the weather was. She never does that. Then my boyfriend asked me to paddle out to the sandbar."
I told her I had seen it all, watched them dance on water at dusk, internally rooting for them. I was perhaps the only one who had seen them take this step together. Certainly something cosmic moved through us then. Call it the observer effect -- but inverted -- the energy of their union, the beauty of the peach-colored air. Maybe the moment wanted to be perceived. Perhaps the time needed to be witnessed to be fulfilled. Perhaps the triangle needed to be connected by me revealing to the new fiancée that I had seen it.
How many moments are longing to be perceived? What is to be gained from a dispersed attention that could allow those fragments the satisfaction of being witnessed?