The Simple Joy of Street Life

The crowds at Savour Stratford

There was a huge food festival in Stratford last weekend.  Alan and I volunteered to set up tents and hand out programmes. 

During those four hours of handing out programmes, I had a lot of time to think.  And what I thought about was the value of street life, of getting outside and just mixing with masses of humanity, seeing people in all their varied forms and weirdnesses.  It’s a great antidote to the perfection and sameness we encounter in the wired world and in print.

It’s so easy in North America to become insulated, withdrawn from society and the everyday mashup of life.  We contact our friends on Facebook,  download movies, buy our clothes online.  And all of that is amazing and can have its place, but if it lets you avoid getting out and mixing with your neighbours, you know, physically, then I think you’re missing something.

People are messy and inconvenient.  They bump into you, they stop in the middle of the sidewalk for no apparent reason and you have to go around them.  They dress funny.  They slow you down.  And that, all of it, is their value and their blessing. 

They slow you down.  They make you (if you allow it) think, question your assumptions, set your judgements aside.

I highly recommend getting outside and getting yourself jostled by the crowd.  Smile at people.  Notice the goodness in the people you see – the biker who is kind to dogs, the wildly unstylish woman with the big laugh, the people who the fashion magazines would have us believe should hide in their basements because they haven’t had themselves fixed and therefore their lives must be soooo not worth living and yet there they are, out in public, having a better time than you. 

Some of you may be afraid to do this.  Fears of crowds or germs or of what may happen to you.  Take it slow.  A weekday afternoon downtown, maybe, or a small farmer’s market, just as it’s opening.  Build up to the bigger events.  Smell the street food and just think about what it might be like to try it.  Go at your own pace, but please go.

Go.  Have fun.  Watch and learn.  Practice patience and cheerful observation.  Learn to be amazed and delighted by the people around you.  And please, leave the hand sanitizer, the cell phone and the ear buds at home.

Have you been out lately?  What did it teach you?



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2 Responses to The Simple Joy of Street Life

  1. Janet says:

    Before hitting up the festival pictured with this article, we went to the Wellesley Apple Butter Festival, and saw many great examples of great people. (I LOVE your descriptions in this post!) My favourites of the weekend were the dozens of kids in a bouncing mob listening to, and jumping along with, the performer who was standing in their wild-haired, laughing midst. Another highlight came a bit down the road when the tiny girl who was just learning to walk, and focusing very hard on it, stopped her uneven steps when the music stopped so she could look up at the faraway stage to clap for the singer. Beautiful.

  2. Barb McMahon says:

    One of the chapter titles in A Pattern Language (my desert island book) is “Dancing in the Streets”. The authors believe that space to do that is crucial to decent community life.

    Without that space, those of us without children would miss the sight of the little ones rocking out or taking a moment to show their appreciation.

    Thanks Janet!

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