o·pen·ness  ˈōpənˌnəs/

noun: openness

  1. lack of restriction; accessibility. acceptance of or receptiveness to change or new ideas.

I “got stuck” at my local high school for my sophomore year, and after 3 years at my soft and fuzzy performing arts Junior High, it wasn’t a great place to be. There were gangs and drugs. And while I was more than open to making friends, most folks there weren’t. So, it was no real surprise that by the time I hit Hollywood High’s Performing Arts Magnet School, I was a bit of a loner. I spent my breaks and my lunch by myself, in the same out-of-the-way spot every day. I liked that spot because I could see most of the comings and goings of the quad, but most people didn’t even notice I was there. The first few weeks went by quickly, and I would sequester myself in my spot with a book and my Walkman and be content to munch on my sandwich. It was lonely, but at least I wasn’t bothering anybody.

I was to learn that there was something singularly and infinitely unique about the people, the times, and the social climate of that school that was going to carry us well into our adulthoods. One day as I was changing tapes from Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, to a Count Basie big band mix, a shadow fell across me. I looked up, fully expecting my fight or flight instincts to need to kick in, but I was greeted by the vision of a redheaded Goddess who was now asking me for the second time, “Why do you eat here all alone?” I was fully struck dumb. Eventually I got enough control of both my brain and my mouth to mutter something about not knowing anybody, to which she said, “Come with me. I’ll introduce to you around.” And she did. She introduced me to an entire class of amazing people, most of whom, nearly 30 years later, I’m still friends with. There was something amazingly special about us. We lived through the introduction of the World Wide Web and the end of the Cold War, the L.A. Riots and the Waco standoff, the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Northridge earthquake. And all of that was just in the few short years we were in high school. It’s like the Universe was pushing us together, so we would have a built-in support group and survive such onslaughts to come, like OJ, Columbine, and 9/11. It wasn’t all bad though, those of us who lived close to each other continued to share in life’s experiences. College graduations, marriages, and a whole gaggle of children later, I can count 10 or 12 of those kids I met that fateful day, with whom I still talk to–some on a daily basis. We supported each other’s theatre shows, musical performances, and poetry slams growing up. And today, as teachers, security professionals, executives, and team leaders, if the call goes out that one of us needs something, 9 times out of 10 it will be one of our high school alumni who answers that call.  

When we close ourselves off from the rest of the world, in our cars, on our computers or our phones, we miss out on even the potential of something amazing happening. Had I not put down my Walkman and gone along with Tab, had I not opened my heart and trusted her in that moment, I would not have the amazing friendships that I now have 30 years later. If you’re not comfortable, or just feel like you can’t open yourself up to that drastic of an experience, try planing some time everyday to go “screen-free” and I include the windscreen of our cars in that too. It doesn’t matter where you are, just put down the phone, close the laptop, pull over the car. Spend 10 minutes just looking at the clouds. Did you remember that they were white? Spend 15 minutes watching the wind rustle the leaves on a tree. Had you remembered that there were so many different shades of green on a tree? When you begin to open yourself up to your environment, soon you will also begin to notice that there are other people out there. This is where it gets awkward. Try smiling at them. Maybe not all of them, but if you start with a quick smile aimed at a dog, or small child, you might notice a side effect of smiles that most of us know, but rarely pay attention to, smiles are contagious. That adult walking the small child, or pushing that dog in a stroller, might just smile back.

Namasté my Brothers,

~ Bear