“All there is to thinking, he said, is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren’t noticing, which makes you see something that isn’t even visible.” ― Norman Maclean, “A River Runs Through It”

You know how it is, I’m guessing. You walk past a room or drive by a house and then one day you notice it’s a really pretty blue, and then you wonder how long it’s been that way. Turns out, it’s been blue a long time, but for some reason, you hadn’t noticed, which basically means the room or house was kind of invisible to you.

It’s what happens when we are moving at a speed too fast to appreciate people or things in our path. It isn’t that we aren’t caring people, after all. Maclean’s words seem especially appropriate as I look for ways to slow down, to see the people and things that are visible, in hopes of learning to recognize the otherwise invisible. Are you still with me?

Choosing a word or theme for the year can set up a person for some long talks with themself. Slow. What does it really mean? Slow doesn’t mean simple, though I feel like slowing down will simplify parts of life. Slow doesn’t mean becoming an hour a day meditator, though I suppose once things are moving more slowly, I might want to spend some time just meditating on the clouds. Lastly, slow doesn’t mean lazy, but once summer gets here, it’s possible I’ll encourage us all to enjoy the lazy days of summer.

No, slow doesn’t mean any of those things, but what it does mean is taking time to notice things, people, and events.

When I found the quote from “A River Runs Through It”, all I knew was it was a movie about fly-fishing, and I felt like fly-fishing would be a place people slow down a bit. So, I reached out to my friendly fly-fishing guide in Oregon, Alex, and asked him to talk me through how fly-fishing and slow might go together. After all, if I’m going to bring slow into my life, I want to understand what it entails, more than just telling myself I shouldn’t run around like a chicken with my head cut off.

Question: How does slowing down come into play in fly-fishing?

Alex: “Slowing down helps you begin to take in your surroundings and become evermore in tune. If you speed up, you might miss something. In fishing, it’s important to go slow and fish the water methodically, instead of fast and too quickly.”

Question: How do you, or do you, channel that into your everyday life?

Alex: “Now that is the question! By going back out to the river. Simple reminders of what worked on the river and what felt relaxing. Reminding yourself of how that can translate into the real world. Take a deep breath and focus on what’s in front of you instead of what is around the bend.”

And now I sit and take a deep breath and focus on what’s in front of me. It’s too cold for me to go into the river, but I’ll use Alex’s lessons until warmer weather arrives. Trying to remember what has been helpful to me in the past, I turn to the calendar and wonder what national day might be on the horizon. And just like that, in my slowing down, in my looking for the visible that I might not miss the otherwise invisible, I saw them, the unseen victims of human trafficking.

Jan. 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day — the whole month is devoted to this, however. If I’m going to slow down to see the invisible, it feels like I’m jumping in with both feet. It’s an uncomfortable topic, I know, and we like to think that kind of thing only happens in other places. But I live in Tennessee, and it is one of the top 20 states for human trafficking and slavery. Yes, that word that we think ended with the Civil War is still important to know today.

“Susan, why can’t you just go back to posting pretty pictures?” people ask when I get passionate about a topic, and this might be one of those times. If you and I are hurrying through life, rushing to the ball game or the grocery store, there’s a good chance we will not only miss the visible, but the invisible.

Human trafficking victims won’t be wearing a nametag so we can see them. They will be in the background, possibly living with their employer, never alone where we could speak with them, and they need us to slow down and notice them.

Modern-day slaves, these trafficking victims, of every color and sex, probably aren’t too far away from any of us. Whether they are forced to work for a debt or forced into a servitude of sex, these (typically) teenagers need us to pay attention and to call someone for help. I’m sharing this with you because I believe you aren’t much different from me, and we care about children, teenagers, women, and men, who are being forced to live in ways we don’t want to imagine. I’ll get back to cheerier pieces, but I don’t want to sit quietly and hope the problem goes away.

In Tennessee, there were people arrested not long ago. TBI Director David Rausch said, “It’s a crime we continue to see more of in Tennessee, especially in the sex trafficking realm ... so far this year (2021) they’ve had 66 investigations and 80 arrests. Among them have been several high-profile cases, including the arrest of a Tennessee National Guard and a youth pastor.”

You and I have to stop assuming people who are in important positions are always doing decent things. We have to be watching for the victims.

Please go to hopeforjustice.org if you would like more information. If you are like I am, you will take in a little information at a time. In the meantime, let’s be like Alex, take in our surroundings and become more in tune. If we get going too quickly, we might miss an important face or fact, and if you and I are safe each day, it seems to me it’s the least we can do — slow down and be in tune with our surroundings.

I don’t know about you, but it will be a lot more fun for me when we talk about slow and the lazy hazy days of summer, but being a good human isn’t always going to be about having fun.

P.S. If you find yourself in Eugene, Ore., look up my friend Alex at Riverside Fly Fishing and Scenic Tours.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (stories@susanbsteen.com).

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