I’m not quite sure of the reason I’m doing so, but I’ve been taking a step back a lot lately and simply observing others as they go about their business. It seems to be one of those things that’s necessary at this moment in time. It allows me to “take the pulse of my surroundings,” if you will, without thinking too much about it — not engaging anyone in conversation, nor passing evaluative judgment — simply listening to what’s being said as I step back.

Who knows? Maybe it has something to do with recently turning sixty. It’s one of those “big numbers” that I only thought applied to my older cousins. Funny thing is, they are but a mere handful of years older than me, yet the difference always seemed much greater.

On some level, it intrigues me to hear what other, non-related folks are doing with their lives and how they’re choosing to go about it. Over the course of several afternoons, I heard all sorts of things, such as a couple who’ve retired from careers that spanned decades not wasting a day as they discussed the details of their upcoming vacation to somewhere in Europe. Then there were a handful of recent college grads that had just entered the workforce comparing notes about their bosses, wondering if the major they’d chosen was truly suited for this type of job. Lastly, two owners of adjoining retail establishments speculated as to when business might finally kick into gear after experiencing slower-than-normal sales compared to previous years during this same time period.

The diversity of topics being discussed amongst these groups and others truly ran the gamut. Granted, it’s quite a small, homogenous sample size to draw any conclusions, if one were looking to do so, but what it succeeded in accomplishing for me was a reaffirmation in my belief that, as crazy and unpredictable as things out there may appear to be right now, life simply goes on at the local level.

Some might say, but of course it does. How else would anything ever get done? To that I say, not necessarily. 

We don’t have to look that far back in our collective history to see the potential for inactivity on a massive, societal level. 

Many of us, if asked, would be hard-pressed to name an individual within our own circles who wasn’t affected in one form or another throughout the duration of the pandemic.

Even now, a couple of years beyond the height of Covid, I imagine that for some (national statistics prove this to be true with PTSD cases having risen dramatically), it would be quite common to bury one’s head in the sand and become detached, especially if you’ve recently encountered a traumatic, challenging life event such as the loss of a loved one, dealing with a serious medical condition, or being displaced due to an unforeseen catastrophe. There is no shortage of reasons for wanting to completely disengage.

By taking a step back, it gave me the opportunity to listen to how others are processing their day-to-day ups and downs, without feeling compelled to contribute to the conversation and thereby offering up my own suggestions. 

Between social and broadcast media, it can become rather exhausting responding to what’s being said, especially when what you’re hearing differs from your own perspective. Non-engagement, on the other hand, is about witnessing and learning. It comes from a neutral space. Right about now, it appears to be just what I needed.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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