Mary went for a walk.

September 9, 2019 § 4 Comments

My husband and I were driving home from Jacksonville after riding Amtrak down the coast from Trenton, New Jersey. We were tired when we pulled into the I-10 rest stop, ready to be home. The poster about the missing woman was small and faded, easy to walk past without a glance, but what hung there was a story, so I stopped.

It was 2015 when Mary went for a walk.

She was born in ’53, so she was younger than I am by a couple of years, but her walk and the walks I take are different. I always know where I am.

Mary didn’t.

According to the poster: “Mary requires medication and suffers from dementia.”

Her face on the poster looked like the face of a third grade teacher. It was an ordinary, sympathetic female face, one that has not been seen by her family or friends for four years.

The poster persists, appealing to random strangers: have you seen this woman in your travels? Do you see her even now, or do you just need a quick stop in the restroom and something from the vending machine before getting back on the road?

What are the odds of a butt-weary traveler stopping, looking, and recognizing Mary, who went for a walk in 2015?

Mary is a needle hidden in the haystack that is the world.

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What I’ve figured out so far: part 2

August 18, 2019 § 1 Comment

Give and take only works when there is some of each on both sides. As acts of kindness and material help flow back and forth, we come to know each other, invest in each other, care about each other. When the flow is all one way there is no connection, producing moments that look like this:

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Most of the important things in life happen by chance, not choice. We are far too small and impotent to dictate what comes next.

We label people, then feel we know and understand them, but often all we see is the obvious. I bring food to an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman. That is the label I pasted on her in my mind, a label I learned was inadequate when she told me she used to be an international detective. A cleaning woman I worked with at the Baltimore Zoo revealed that back in the day, she was a blues singer who performed with Billie Holiday. We sum the person in front of us up with a snapshot taken at one moment in a long, complex life. Our quick assessments are far too simple; you never know who you are talking to.

Our words are influenced by what we think the listener wants to hear and the self we wish to project. Each of us has a secret self only scantily visible to others.

Most people are good individually. It is humanity in the aggregate that screws up.

The body has its own form of consciousness that operates independently. We become aware of it at times of danger when a gut reaction stops us in our tracks, but that unconscious thinking is always there. Maybe the conscious mind is just the mouthpiece for the mute body, where a deeper, more primal form of thinking is always in progress. Our most important decisions are made below the level of conscious awareness. It is in the act of justifying and explaining, that the mind takes ownership. As the mind translates the unconscious decision into words, it becomes convinced it is the originator of the idea.

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There is something you have to do.

August 10, 2019 § 1 Comment

I watched The Notorious RBG for the second time and was struck again by the behind-the-scenes support provided by Justice Ginsburg’s marriage. Marty was a supportive and loving man who never seemed threatened as she advanced in her career. He anchored her life, encouraged her, and cheered her on when women’s chances for outside-the-home accomplishments were slim.

Marty has been dead since 2010 and I am sure Ruth still misses him every day. Her happy marriage was the coat she wore against the cold when she was young and uncertain, not yet notorious, not yet known by three upper case initials. He was the one she came home to after a day of contentious crusading.

Still, without Marty she goes on, a woman on a mission.

It is rarely as obvious as it is with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband, Marty, that life can have a greater mission, hers to be a legal titan, his to provide ballast, but each of us has the capacity to accomplish something beyond the day-to-day walk of a respectable life.

The personal (the love story, the family) are what we do for ourselves. We live most of our lives enveloped in that reality. It has moments of friction, sure, but that friction is human-scaled, and we can handle it.

But there are larger missions that change the trajectory of something far greater than a single life or the life of a family, missions that create ripples that spread until a community, a nation, or the human race has been changed.

I am convinced that missions seek us out. What we offer is receptivity, a willingness to take a chance, to roll up our sleeves. What the mission offers is a need we can fill, an opportunity to be larger than our individual lives whether we are the crusader for the mission or the one who fixes dinner and offers encouragement.

Life is much easier if the mission never comes calling, and a practical person would pray to be passed over. Even Christ said, “Let this cup pass from me.” But a life without a mission is also smaller, the view more narrow.

If we turn away, our hope is that the mission will move on, find another advocate. But if we are honest we have to admit that it may die of neglect. It is often that second possibility that causes us to say yes.

A mission seems to find the person who will fight for it, and, in a sense, the person becomes the property of that mission. Those afflicted and set aflame by a cause are perceived as saints, martyrs, or madmen.

It helps to have the company of believers and supporters, others to help lift the load—this is hard and lonely work.

RBG was loved by a great, supportive man; that belongs to her, that joy comes from the smaller story that is her life.

What she has done in her public life belongs to all of us and all the generations that will follow.

Note: I think about this as I do the work of running a food bank, sorting squishy produce, making pickups, doing distributions. This is not a world-altering mission, but its ripples have practical results in the real world. Food on tables. A community of volunteers. Friendships. The assurance that no one is alone in their need. We can’t all be the notorious RBG, but we can all say yes to something greater than ourselves.  

What you wish for.

December 2, 2017 § 4 Comments

Be careful what you wish for is the familiar saying.

It is a pessimist’s warning, delivered with a frown.

Getting what you wish for is sure to disappoint!

Or bite you on the butt.

You’re better off with the known, the as-is, the just-okay.

But that doesn’t stop us from wishing for the long shot, the impossible, the rainbow. It is why we buy a lottery ticket.

We spend hours imagining what isn’t, and often what can never be.

But why?

Perhaps we are testing the boundary between the possible and the impossible. Maybe that line is chalk, and maybe it can be scuffed out with the sole of a sneaker, a new one drawn in. Who knows?

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Respect for the small.

November 4, 2017 § 2 Comments

rubber bandsA single paper clip.

A sheet of paper, one side clean.

The heel of a loaf of bread.

A handful of rubber bands.

What are they worth?

They’re not worth the trouble of storing them until needed.

Not worth the effort or ingenuity required to put them to use right now.

So, without thought, we default to the easiest solution. We toss them in the trash.

This cavalier treatment of the small-but-useful object is not a constant when it comes to human behavior, but it has held steady for quite a while in this period of prolonged bounty.

Here is an adage that expressed our relationship with small but useful objects during the Great Depression:

Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

If there were a saying that summed up our treatment of the objects in our lives today, it would surely end with, “throw it out.” « Read the rest of this entry »

Busker’s Lament.

July 16, 2017 § 2 Comments

Buskers, those street musicians wearing tragic hats and faded jeans, are the filter feeders of the music world, gleaning pocket change and an equivalent amount of attention from a busy, going-somewhere audience.

The signals that let listeners know, “Hey, this is a big act! These guys are hot!” are absent.

No band bus.

No stage.

No entourage.

Just a guitar, a shaker or two and that gaping guitar case, begging for the recognition of loose change, and the occasional buck that has to be kept from blowing away.

It’s a hunger that will never be filled.

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April 19, 2017 § 9 Comments

Ripe is sweet and thin-skinned, juicy-wet and delicious, and chances are you’d put it in the trash or compost bin without taking a bite, because to taste delicious you have to get past ugly.

Ripe is bruised and it leaks. You can’t stack it, that’s for sure. Where one piece of fruit touches another, ripe darkens and weeps; you’ll never find ripe in a grocery store.

Instead you find perfect.

Grocery store fruits and vegetables are firm, smooth and unblemished, but not ripe. I don’t fault grocery stores. Unripe stacks well, it has a longer shelf life.

When you bite into grocery store produce it crunches, and delivers a hint of flavor, a preview of coming attractions.

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