Thursday, March 7, 2019
I parked here while waiting for someone to go to an appointment. I was using the time to zone out...maybe even Zen out. It feels like I've been zoning out a good deal of the time lately, and I've felt a little useless because of that...I have a busy life, but it's not busy like it used to be...when I had children under 18 and when I had a business to run or when I had a job... Now there are chunks of time...two or three hours at a time...when I don't have anything I have to do. (Housework doesn't count if no guests are coming, right?) I volunteer several times a week, for several hours at a time. I have two young grandchildren who spend a couple of nights a week at my house. And, of course, I travel. Road trips and more exotic affairs... But I'm wanting to figure out what is mine to do now that I'm retired and basically free to do nothing...I could read all the time. Some folks do. I could watch movies. Some folks do. I could play bridge. Some folks do. I could exercise. Some folks do. But I have time to do all these things...and cook homemade meals...and still have time left over. So what is mine to do? Write? Maybe...that is a gift I have and like but have not felt like doing much in the past few years. Maybe that's changing. Maybe that's what this is about. Yet, in the middle of this transition (if this is what it is), I parked in front of the bush in the photo. And just stared at it. This is what I realized after five minutes of contemplation: The bush is doing nothing obvious. It is not reading or playing bridge or picking up grandchildren for sleepovers.It is not delivering Meals on Wheels or helping seat patrons at Walton Arts Center performances. It is not encouraging fellow members of the Homemade Method community. It is not cleaning house. It is standing there. Quietly. Sometimes it moves in the wind or bends in the rain. Once a year, it does add some branches and it always releafs each spring, but the bush does not wonder what its purpose is. It simply thrives. Moment by moment, until the day it dies. Why can't I be as content and serene and unbothered as the bush? There's this passage in the Bible where Jesus talks about worrying...Matthew, Chapter 6. Jesus compares humans to flowers. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Jesus was saying to not worry about our human needs...it will all get taken care of...but I'm also wondering if this passage indicates that I, too, have value and purpose just by standing here, like the bush. The bush offers sweet smells and colorful foliage and flowers in the summer. It offers its bare brown sculpted branches in the winter. It offers oxygen to the environment. It holds the ground together with its roots. It breaks the wind. It supports bird nests. I do as much. No, I do way more...and I even offer carbon dioxide to the bush! I do all of this even when I am spending time on trivial matters.
When you do good stuff for other people, you don’t do it for extra credit. You do it because it feels good to help someone else feel good. You do it because, if someone did this for you, it would make you feel special. It would make you feel seen. So often we feel invisible. Others get so involved in their own routines, they have tunnel vision and forget about us who walk the same path. And then, a random act of kindness jolts us, and we remember that we are all connected. There’s a man that my husband Jeremy and I deliver lunch to every Tuesday on our Meals on Wheels route. Ronnie (the name is made up to allow him privacy) spends his days in an easy chair watching old television westerns. He has a walker but doesn’t get around much, and there’s a note on my delivery sheet that says to knock, then enter so he doesn’t have to come to the door. He always mutes the TV when I come in, and he asks me how I am. After 30 seconds of chit chat, I leave the pepper steak with gravy, the scalloped potatoes and the corn on the seat of his walker, which is parked beside him. “Goodbye,” I say as I head for the door and my next delivery. It’s not much of an interaction, but having done it weekly for five or six years now, it has created a mini-relationship between the two of us. Jeremy stays in the car, getting the next meal ready for delivery. A few weeks ago, however, when I returned to the car, I noticed Jeremy had rolled Ronnie’s trashcan from the curb to beside his garage door. It was a nice little extra, and I wondered if the neighbors normally did this for him. I also wondered if his sons came by to do it, as both live nearby. I know this because their names and phone numbers are on my delivery sheet in case of an emergency. Today, as I was leaving Ronnie his baked chicken, green beans and chocolate pudding, he remarked about how cold the weather has been. “Brrrr,” I said. “It’s 11 o'clock and it’s still only 20 degrees Fahrenheit out there.” “I know,” Ronnie said. “When I rolled my trash to the curb last night, my hands stuck to my walker’s metal handlebars.” He said he takes his trash out the night before because collection is early Tuesday morning. I asked him if he had to take his trash out every week. “Yes,” he said. “There’s no one to do it for me. I have everything ready in case my sons come by, but they usually don’t. I don’t even see them every week anymore.” Then, to keep from sounding sorry for himself, Ronnie added, “That’s just the way it is.” I was thinking he probably felt invisible, now in his 80s, unable to leave his house…his television his only company, other than for the three minutes the Meals on Wheels drivers come by five days a week. But then a smile flashed across his face. “I do have some nice neighbors,” he said. “They bring my trashcan up to my garage. That helps a lot because it’s hard to drag it while using my walker.” I hesitated for a moment, but since the credit would go to my husband and not me, I decided to tell Ronnie that it was Jeremy who was bringing it up each Tuesday. Ronnie’s smile grew brighter, “Why thank you!” “Of course!” I said. “Now you stay warm and we’ll see you next week.” I told Jeremy when I got back to the car and we decided to make a note on the delivery sheet for whoever drives the route on Tuesday (because sometimes we miss a week) to drag the trashcan back up to the garage door. Such an easy way to recognize that we are all one community. Such an easy way to make someone feel seen and heard.
This is a story about a little boy who lives down the street from my granddaughters. It resurfaced in my mind because of news this week in a Colorado city I had thought was pretty “hip.” I think Boulder is generally considered to be a liberal city of peace and good will. So I was appalled to read about a policeman confronting a man in his front yard this week, demanding he throw down the trash picker tool he was using to clean his property. The man screamed back, telling the cop he lived and worked there and to get off his property, and the officer radioed for backup. The backup cop arrived, gun drawn. No one got shot, so the story has a better ending than it might have had in other cities across the United States. But I doubt there would have been a story if the man with the plastic bucket and trash picker tool had been white. He was black. I don’t know what to say. I think of my own town, Fayetteville, Arkansas, as a smaller version of Boulder. It scares me to see this racial profiling going on in a college town where people would seem to be more accepting of differences, especially when those differences involve minority groups. Less than 2 percent of the Boulder population is black. Fayetteville has about 6 percent black people living in its borders, according to a Deloitte website, datausa.io. I thought about the man in his yard, yelling at the police. I thought that I, a white woman, would have been too scared to scream at them, especially when a gun was drawn. I wondered how much common sense he had to be yelling and not putting down his trash picker tool when ordered to do so. And then I realized something huge. There has to come a point at which people who are being racially profiled scream, “Enough! No more!” When they take a place at the white lunch counter. When they sit in the front of the bus. That’s what this man did. I remembered how long ago my mother told me that nice girls who didn’t want to get raped dressed conservatively. The girl, the black man, the Muslim, the insert-minority-of-your-choice-here, it is they who need to alter their behaviors to avoid being bullied, assaulted, or, even, killed. But that’s not right. We can talk, we do talk, until we are blue in the face about compassion and acceptance and racial profiling, and, still, even a hip city like Boulder doesn’t “get” it. How much hope can there be for the rest of us? How do minority groups go through their lives? I suspect that Boulder man was a little scared even as he screamed. He’s seen all the news stories about innocent people being gunned down because they are black. But on this day, anger trumped fear. And then I remembered something that happened on my granddaughters’ street last summer. My husband Jeremy and I were driving over to see the girls, and when we turned the corner onto their street, Jeremy had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a neighbor boy playing in the road. Jeremy rolled his window down and told David, 7 at the time, “You need to be way more careful. You could have been killed!” David’s eyes popped open: “Are you saying you’re gonna kill me?” We were aghast! “No, David!” Jeremy said, “I’m saying you have to be careful in the street because if a car hits you, you could be killed.” David knows our granddaughters. He’s come to birthday parties at their house. He knows Jeremy and me. Why in the world would he have ever thought we would say we were going to kill him? I knew, though. I knew exactly why. David is black. In our world, even in my compassionate Fayetteville, racial profiling is a lifelong condition when your skin is black. It makes me want to scream.