Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I thought it should make sense, this life.
Children are pretty matter of fact. What is, is. I see it in the traveling families. Tonight we sleep by the road, tonight we sleep in a tent, now we must try to be quiet in the car. I saw it in myself, a military kid. Today we move across the ocean.
And maybe because I grew up traveling, maybe because maps were guides…well, maps and airport lights and beacons and static filled radio broadcasts—I have long thought of life in terms of travel. The dusty roads, the places we go, the people we bump into, share a moment with, remember, the journey ahead.
I always wanted a map.
When I was 8 or 9 I prayed a lot for guidance. I wanted an angel to appear, shiny and feathery, holding a map or maybe the directions that apparently were left out of my baby hand when I tumbled into this world, nicely wrapped in my caul, and totally bewildered.
The map would be large and scrolly. There would be some sort of ribbon, and there would be stars and dotted lines and maybe a picture or two. And the angel would point to a place marked You are Here and then show me, moment by moment, year by year, the paths my feet would take.
I saw it as sort of a tangled and meandering path, even then, but I knew if I prayed enough the angel would come, and certainly the angel would tell me what it was all about.
Because…well, let’s face it, it was all pretty confusing. Even to a fairly sheltered child. Death was happening, and there were things called wars, and my mother was not expected to live..and the angel just never came with the map. Other things happened that gave me some measure of peace, but…no map for a pilgrim’s journey.
Okay, I was an odd kid. But I think of that map that never arrived and I think we are making our maps day by day, step by step, all along the way. Our own designs, canny as any spider spinning. Our own trail of memories, encounters. Our own meaning, though maybe we’d never put it into words.
I saw the man early this morning as he rose from his shelter of bushes beside the freeway. He didn’t notice me, or my dog. We were well screened by redwoods, and on a higher road. He moved awkwardly, but I didn’t stop to stare. We had appointments with squirrels and stellar jays and ravens.
But I saw him later, sitting on a low wall. I nodded hello. He had kind, wary eyes. He nodded back.  When I next saw him, having completed my uptown errand, he was walking. And he was walking with a lot of pain.
I stopped. “Your leg is hurting you?” I made it a question, because it was ridiculously apparent that this was so, and probably my remark was stupid…but I needed to ask. Yes, he said. He said he’d broken his foot a few days before, and he was out sleeping rough and had no place to go, but he had made it to the local hospital.
They said there were two breaks. They said there wasn’t a thing to be done about them. They sent him on his way.
I told him about the health center and promised respect and…well, maybe there was something to be done? His knee was paining him a lot as well. Walking was hard. He figured…well, he’d heard there was a shelter up north and he thought if he could get the bus up there, and if he could have a bed, and if he could rest up a day or two…well, then he could go on.
He refused, gently, my offer of bus fare. I’m all right, he said. Just a little broken now.
I told him when and where the bus would come, and wished him a good journey, and a place to rest, and the ability to go on.
And here we are, all of us, on our journey. Not so far apart, though oceans might separate us, though some are in deserts and some in cities and there are crises and bombs and revolutions and terrors and great delights. And we are all, maybe, just a little broken, though we are lucky and our feet don’t pain us at the moment.
And no angel came with a big map.
But you know, I think I do know the way. It’s still confusing. Death is still around. My mother died…but after more years than we imagined. Things don’t make sense.
But it doesn’t matter. I take a step at a time. Sometimes I hold someone’s hand.  I try to love the journey.

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Blogger Sabine said...

You have told me so much in such gentle words.

As always I find it completely incomprehensible that a sick person in pain is turned away at a hospital. The country I am living in is in no way perfect - we have our share of corruption and the rapidly growing gap between the rich and poor - put people in pain are never refused treatment in an emergency and often enough it's the tax payer who picks up the costs in the end. And some of the good and proper tax payers regularly complain, of course. But it's in the constitution, the right to physical integrity.

Maybe his story is more complicated. But thankfully there are angels in the shape of compassionate people like you.

2:52 AM, June 18, 2014  
Blogger ocean lady said...

So spare and simple, yet so poignant. I hope that man was able to find help with his foot and knee. There is help - even medical insurance now - if he can find the way to get some. I suspect your words helped him gather strength even more than sunshine that day.

1:48 PM, July 30, 2014  

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