There is a certain level of anonymity you can maintain in Atlanta if you want to. If you yearn to run errands in your pajamas and leave the house without makeup, you can do it without fear of being recognized.
It creates a stark contrast to the way I grew up, of which I'm always reminded when I'm home for the holidays. When you go to the grocery in my hometown, you see at least three people you know. Your face can be recognized and your name recalled by people you've never met - simply because you resemble your parents and siblings. If you forget your wallet, you can tell them you'll be right back because you live just a few blocks away.
There is a constant feeling of known-ness and seen-ness that is easy to acquire and maintain. In Atlanta, to be seen and known, you have to work for it. You have to earn it and ask for it and give it in return.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the juxtaposition these two towns have created in my life - there is a canyon between the two ways of living. I often wonder how I can be so happy in such different places. Could I live in one without the opportunity to visit the other, and still remain happy? Do I need both?
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of participating in the Fearless Dialogues workshop. The goal of the day was to encourage us to better see and hear the people around us.
After the workshop, I flew to Virginia to meet my sister's new baby. As I stood in the airport, I noticed that all around me, people were looking down at their phones. Like moles burrowing in the ground, each person's neck was hunched; eyes glued to their phones.
I decided this was my chance to change my ways. What if, instead of seeing only my phone until I landed in Virginia, I tried to see the people around me?
I felt overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounded me as I began my mission.
I noticed the warmth in the flight attendant's smile and the strength in the hands of the man sitting next to me. I noticed how long a mother's eyelashes were as she stared lovingly at the baby sleeping in her arms.
I heard stories from a man in the army who recently moved to Colorado and was having a hard time adjusting to the new lifestyle. And from a minister who just adopted a child from Russia and was struggling to integrate her into his family.
I noticed all around me that people are yearning to be seen, to be heard and to be known. But we're so wrapped up in our devices and the world we could be missing that we miss the one right in front of us.
As the hustle, bustle and insanity of the holiday season descends upon us, I'm focusing less on my to do list and more on seeing the world around me. It's so easy to run errands with our shopping list in hand, replying to texts and emails and phone calls as we rush through it all.
But this year, my goal is to see the cashier that rings me up, give a big, teethy smile to the valet who is parking my car and collect stories from the people around me as quickly as I'm collecting receipts.