Friday, July 30, 2010

The Hermit

Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I'm a bit of a loner. More socially active people sometimes read this behavior as negative, sad - It must be lonely or mean I don't care for people much. And that isn't so.

Some of us just need to go to the mountain on a regular basis. Some of us need to leave the clatter and incessant buzzing of the world behind in order to think clearly, to stay grounded. I'm introspective by nature and need time and quiet to hear my own thoughts. Stuff my schedule with too much face time and I begin to feel like a pinball careening wildly out of control.

When my time is my own, it's not unusual for me to have a three or four day run when I don't hear a human voice. The quiet outside seeps inside. It leaves room for whatever the universe wants to toss my way.

This morning on Granville Street, it tosses me a present.

I spot Charley in his usual spot outside the Split Crow Pub. Short and sturdy as a fire-plug, a hard history imprinted in the lines in his face, Charley is one of my morning beacons. His presence lends a kind of reassuring certainty to my day. He and I have been smiling good morning at each other forever but we've never spoken. For some reason, today, I break the routine.

"Mornin,'Charley! Let's hope this fog breaks, huh?" Charley grins and nods.
"Yep. Kinda damp, ain't it."

We stand side by side, smoking our cigarettes in companionable silence and then Charley asks,

"Do you like to read?"
"Why yes. I read all the time."

Charley fishes a crumpled photocopied pamphlet out of his pocket. I wonder, before I open it, if maybe Charley is born again and I happen to look like I need saving.

"It's my wife's," he explains, "she made about a thousand of 'em."

I open and read. It's poetry, painfully, clumsily rhymed. But the first one is for Charley. It begins:

This is the man I love
Who is above
All the rest of the men I had in my life
For this I am proud to say I am his wife

"Sounds like you have a happy marriage. This is nice, what she wrote for you." Charley beams.

"Yep. Nine years," Her first husband, he beat her something awful." I let that sink in.

"Well," I say, "maybe the only good thing to come from being with a bad man is that you appreciate a good one a hundred times more..." Charley nods and his expression brightens.

"We comin' up on ten years in the fall," he tells me, "I got her a surprise she never going to expect."

"Okay, now you have to tell!"

"I got her a $14,000 diamond ring." He beams. He looks like he's still shocked at his own extravagance. I gape at him, suitably gob-smacked. That could be half a year's pay or thereabouts.

"Well, Charley - you have to show me the poem she writes after that anniversary."

With that, I admit I'm late for work and we both head off to our respective jobs.

Hours later, I'm still hugging the memory. It's not about the quantity of contact. It's all about the quality.

Who could be lonely with gifts like that?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Ruby Dee Prayer

I wake up this morning feeling like I am made of badly-cobbled spare parts. It is the kind of morning that metaphorically misses a step on the staircase and flails gracelessly to regain balance. The kind of morning when unremembered dreams have clung to the edges of consciousness just out of the grasp of recall.

it's as if I had swallowed gravel along with my morning if emotions had lodged in my stomach, undigestable, a little gritty and sharp around the edges.

I try to reason it out. The first thing that comes to mind is that I was one of many who disappointed a new Native American friend by remaining silent when she commented on a recent injustice. Even though my subsequent apology is graciously accepted, my mind can't let it go. I keep thinking, "All it takes for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing." Or good women. Doing nothing, facing nothing, is the great sin, in my estimation, of the middle class. Figuring all of it is someone else's problem is a universal form of denial. To watch the news, to read the newspaper is to drown in bad news. It's overwhelming.

So what do we do? We good men and women who are disturbed and saddened by injustice, racism, pollution, war? What do we do when we realize that just meditating on all of it, just holding positive thoughts is not enough. What do we do when we see, at the same time, angry measures create stronger polarities that drown the voice of reason and erase all hope of cooperation?

In a time of escalating tumult and chaos, from the economic to the environmental to political - what is the responsibility of "good" men and women? It's our world. And the scary thought occurs to me that if we don't participate in change, we deserve the lack of change we get.

So, when an opportunity arises to speak or act - next time I'll stand and be counted.

And I'll accept the gravelly discomfort of this morning with gratitude. It's an answer to the Ruby Dee prayer: "God, make me so uncomfortable that I will do the very thing I fear."