Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Love More

Perfect October day, one of the bright blue ones with fluffy clouds straight out of kindergarten drawings. I half expect to see the sun turn chrome yellow, show a bunch of straight rays, and wink a crayoned eye at me. The ravens are playing their autumn games (tumble, toss, and chatter) and the first flocks of robins are arriving. All is as right with the world, for a moment, as something from a nice Victorian poem.

There was a lot of activity in the quiet corners of my world when I walked out with my dog into the morning air. Trucks, workers, people rushing about in their early tasks.

So I didn’t betray her, as she sat carefully concealed, holding her dog at her side. And for once my dog didn’t betray her either—no sudden barking, no dancing joyful greeting. We slipped by, as quietly as possible. I knew her from other encounters, when she showed up exhausted and pale and asked for a glass of water, having walked miles in the hot sun. Today we met each other’s eyes, nodded, and I walked on.

But what sort of world is it, I thought, where a fragile young woman seeks the shelter of a bush and is afraid to be seen?

It’s a strange world we live in, where these days signs get posted inviting people to get out of town immediately, where people are referred to, routinely, as trash, bums, lowlifes, drifters.

And where people like my young friend live with the constant threat of losing their belongings, their companion animals, & sometimes their freedom.

And sometimes their lives.

The man on the phone who promised terrible things would happen was unashamed and gave me his name along with his threats. Others have been less self assured, or less open, though the threats and suggestions have been fairly lethal, a vigilante escalation of rhetoric. And sometimes of action—a disabled man screamed at and shot with paintballs, veterans told “we don’t want your kind”, children met with insult and hatred.

The town I live in is about 4 blocks long, embraced by the hills and river. Blue skies, clear air, a community so small that when my youngest wandered I knew he would be returned to my arms safely by a neighboring shopkeeper or worker or one of my friends on the street. A place wrapped in kindness. Or so I thought. And so I still hope.

I was sweeping my porch the other evening when one of my young travelling friends said “hey, can I ask you a question?” as he filled his water bottle. “Sure,” I said, wondering what was coming up. The question he asked me made me pause, confused, not sure what to say at all. “Why are you so kind?” he asked. I felt embarrassed, unworthy, and stammered “I’m not really, not all that kind”. I am well aware of my impatiences and my times of needing to be away, away from the bandaging of hurt hands and the psychic bandaging of hurt hearts, I know I am not always joyful as I meet each need or question. My friend persisted. “Why do you care? Why do you care so much?” I said “it’s human to care. We are connected. We all care about each other, don’t we?”

No, he said. No, most people don’t care.

I’ve sat with that question a lot, turning it this way and that. Cause I’m not a saint and I’m not particularly special; I’m a pretty ordinary, aging woman. But yes, I care, and I care deeply, and I think I care because…there is no reason in the world not to care, and so many reasons to do so. Because when I hear someone cry in pain I have to run to help. Because when someone is hungry my stomach tightens. Because what hurts someone else hurts me, a lot, and I really don’t do well with pain. I care because I’m awfully selfish and I want to walk out in the October sun with my dog and feel good. Despite everything I know, and I know some terrible truths, just as anyone in this frail life of ours, on a changing planet does.

So I listen. And I do what I can, whether that’s providing a bit of food or a blanket or a bit of respite or a bandage or a motherly exhortation to get to the clinic or a phone call or a handful of food for a skinny dog. My partner, who has been known to give away the shirt he’s wearing (I laugh at him, he is a cliché, but a great one) says he just does what he does because it’s easier. And he doesn’t want to face people who are desperate when he could help. He claims to be practical, a pragmatist. I’m not so logical, but, yeah, I’m lazy. And trust me, it is much easier to be kind.

Besides, once upon a time I read a lot of stories, and there were some that stuck in my childish heart. Someone said that he had been hungry, and unfed, and naked, and no one came to give him clothes. And in jail, and no one bothered to check on him there, and so sick and alone and no one seemed to care.

I was ten. I was gravely troubled. I had never met a hungry person or a naked, cold one, or someone in jail. I had visited relatives in the hospital, so I felt clear on that one. But the others…I worried a great deal that I would never figure out how to reach those people. No worries now, half a century later, abundance flows through..including abundant opportunities to reach out a kind hand.

And sure, the phone calls and the threats sometimes give me pause. But such opportunity, such interesting lessons. We are here such a very short while. Our time together is a quick time. It’s like a childhood run through the autumn leaves, a snowfall that we thought would last forever, that friend we always thought we’d finally tell things to.

The shaky treehouses I built as a girl fell to pieces long ago. Many of my friends are dead now; David, who walked with me to school, the woman who was a mentor and friend and love for decade upon decade. People I knew a moment and people I loved a long while. It’s all over so very quickly.

I think we have to love each other, and this lovely planet. And if that doesn’t work, I think we have to love more.