Watching, present participle of the verb watch. The dictionary definition describes watch thus, “to look at or observe attentively over a period of time, to be closely observant”.
Picture this. It was a fine sunny day in 1971, with just a hint of a breeze dancing across the school yard. It was around 2.50 pm to be precise, and I was soon to learn that hint of a breeze was to come laden with much angst for the ten-year-old me.
As Mr Giles called the class to order we all madly raced to finish our tasks. Mine was to clean up the last remnants of our day from the floor. It had been a pretty tidy day for us grade four students as I discovered there were few remnants to be found. Save some scraps of paper, the odd piece of fluff and something that looked disgustingly like a piece of discarded chewing gum.
With the fragments all dutifully rounded up and corralled in the dustpan, I looked about for a bin eager to receive my quarry. But there was none. Alas, it was still in the arms of a fellow student dawdling their way back from the master dumpster.
Frantically looking this way and that for a suitable receptacle, I found none. Caught in the cacophony of my fellow comrades as they raced to take their places, I had to think quick. With no rug to stash the waste under, my eyes settled on the door, and therein I had a plan.
Nonchalantly moving to the door, my now sweating little hand opened it whilst the other tossed the loot to the wind. A vitriolic, yet almost silent “freeeeee” falling from my lips. And as wind nabbed each piece as its own, I quickly learned there was another to be nabbed as well.
“Miss. A-hernnnnn”, Mr Giles slowly boomed, rumbling out those last nnns that would not only catch my attention but that of the entire class. Leaving all with the firm belief it was not going to end well for me.
Doing what any rational fourth grader would do in such a circumstance, I looked at my shoes for the answer. Alas, none was forthcoming. Which was hardly surprising as they had never offered up one before.
The steely silent detention that followed provided me with the opportunity to contemplate my lot as I struggled to find a plausible reason to offer my waiting outside mother for my delay. Punctuating this silence some 15 minutes in was a rap on that very cursed door that had led to my incarceration.
And to my surprise I soon learned that the “rappee” was another Ahern – my mother.
She had come enquiring as to my whereabouts due to my no-show at pickup time. Learning of my faux pas as it was relayed in every gory detail by Mr Giles, she responded with one of those “gee, what are the odds?” moments that was to prove all those minutes consumed by my thinking up a reason for my lateness had been in vain.
My mum went on to explain that from the vantage point of her car, she saw the classroom door slowly swing open, and to her surprise not a cascade of cheery students sprang forth, but a small waft of papers and some odd debris cast adrift by a childlike hand. The door then quickly shut. Little did she know at that time the hand was mine. But now she sure did.
From my teacher’s eagle eye, my parents and peers, police on the road, webcams on the street and even the animals were watching. The darkness too, I was to learn, had eyes, as someone was always holding vigil over my actions, and even my thoughts.
Over the years I have often replayed that scene in my mind with a bit of a chuckle, as I am chuckling away now. Mulling over the thought (what were the odds?) that when I thought no one was watching me that day, there were actually at least two.
But the years have advanced and so too, thankfully, have my cleaning skills. I no longer toss away rubbish but rather actively engage in recycling practices and encourage others to as well. And I have come to realise that there was another unseen party watching me that day. Their voice was the reason behind those sweating hands. Alas, though, at the time to my tender childlike ears theirs was a voice I chose to ignore. A voice that nonetheless has grown in strength and in wisdom over the years, which I can now never ignore.
Spoken gently by our better angels, tutored by our life experiences, and moulded by our innate compassion. It is a voice that reminds us of our moral compass. Ignoring it will come at our peril as we feel it in the pit of our stomach. And there is good reason for this. For this voice takes its roots in the earliest of our humanity; it guided our ancestors to appreciate the value of looking out for one another and in doing good – and feeling bad when we do not.
So please remember this, whether you are a quick-thinking ten-year-old tossing rubbish out the door or an adult deciding what to eat, say, wear or do: someone will be watching you, just waiting for you to listen. They are better known as your conscience.