I’m sitting on a bench in a crowded mall and my assignment is to watch people. Not only watch, but analyze them. Notice their posture, their stance, their gait. Look at the way they swing their arms, or how they don’t.
My assignment was to be a secret observer of people, and twenty four years later, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.
I see people as they walk into the clinic. Take notice of the way they get out of a car, the way they close the door, the way they cross the street.
My job is to notice everything about a person, in hopes of understanding what’s going on with their body. To see why they can walk straight or throw hard. But most people don’t understand that the mind can play just as important a role here as injury.
You ever notice how when someone is happy they move differently? Or when they are sad they slump more? A confident person will walk differently than a shy person, an adult moves differently than a child.
But my observations have gotten deeper over the years, much more specific. I notice what side the watch is on, is there a part in the hair, the wear pattern in shoes. What kind of clothes do they wear? How often do they smile?
How are they posturing? Are they in a good mood or a bad one? Do they have an accent? How old are they? How much do they weigh?
I should set up a booth at the fair, the one like the “Guess your Height and Weight”, but add more of a twist to it. I can tell you if you are left handed or right. If you are happy or sad.
Sometimes I can tell you if you are in love or not.
Step right up and I will tell you what your body is telling the world, because if I have learned anything in my career, it’s that the body keeps the score.
And the body always wins.
You have a chronic upset stomach? Maybe it’s not your diet, maybe it’s stress. The body has an amazing way of defending us, or really, protecting itself regardless of us.
You see, the mind and the body seem to be two different animals. The body is simply a machine trying to do a function, and the function is survival. The mind, well, sometimes the mind thinks it knows what it wants, but we humans have proven over time we are horrible at knowing what we need.
I have seen patient’s with chronic pain due to the mind, not the body. I have seen backs that seem to get better not from what I do, but simply what I allow the patient to say.
The person with the chronic limp is not always due to weakness or habit. Sometimes we like to play the victim, even if we don’t think we are.
I see it all, and as much as it is a blessing, it can also be a curse.
Remembering how a patient moves is one thing, trying to forget how a lover does is another.
I can still tell you how my dad’s hands felt. I once had a patient that had the same forearms as him. The whole sesson I just looked at his forearms instead of his face, and for an hour I was able to spend time with a dead man.
I remember the way people feel when you hug them, the way a mother can identify her child’s cry out of dozens.
I catch glimpse of hair styles. I will see someone from afar and remember a buddy that is gone.
Yes, sometimes I see dead people, or at least people that move like them.
The problem with humans is that sometimes we tend to move and look alike, and for someone that notices everything, then everything can become a reminder of someone, even if the reminder is on someone else.
But this is what makes people watching at a bar like watching waves at the ocean. Sooner or later you can’t help but spot one that you can’t take your eyes off of. And you allow your mind to following it to shore, letting it remind you of the first time you saw a wave like that.
Or remind you of the last time.
The curse of observation occurs in the mirror. For all the people that I notice their face, I can’t help but notice my own too. The new lines, the white hairs. My mirror has become a canvas and my face an ever evolving work of art.
Yet, this is the best part of my day, the one that I get to see the smiles and the tears of people. I see their portrait and my job is to try and fix the blemishes, to allow them to be at better version of the person they see in the mirror.
The mind can play tricks on the body, my job is notice the problems, and try and fix them.
Even if the problems I notice are mine.