all of the selves we Have ever been
“The air between us is not empty space.”
I am an early bird. I love seeing the day in its infancy and experiencing the way the world feels in the first morning hours as the sun takes its place in the sky. The air is cool and fresh and filled with hope. World peace seems possible and brotherly love comes easily in this time of leisure and enthusiasm before rush hour traffic begins.
I leave my apartment for the shared-use path outside my door. As my feet hit the pavement, I feel a jolt of anticipation. Soon, I begin to pass other early birds jogging, biking, and walking. They are a friendly flock. Even speeding by on their bicycles, they nod their heads or shout “good morning!” With the children grown and out of the house, these cheery good mornings fill a void in me that is tender. I look for the familiar faces that I share this path with each morning. There is reassurance here, a sense of belonging. Each day there are new faces, and I wonder, will I see them tomorrow?
When I reach the corner, I step off the path to walk a few laps around the parking lot of a giant office complex. Scattered around this artfully landscaped property are small pavilions containing octagon-shaped picnic tables with attached benches. On the busiest corner I sometimes pass a small group of people huddled together for a smoke before the workday begins. In a less busy area, I pass a young woman who seems occupied by her phone or a notebook. We say hello each day. One morning I spot her sitting in a more remote pavilion. After we exchange greetings, I add, “You have moved.” She explains that she likes to read and think and meditate a little before going into the office. As the young woman says this, she stands and begins to gather her things. In the early sunlight, I can see the beauty of her face and the long hair that is pulled back in a low, loose pony tail. Dark waves ripple down her back. “You are strikingly beautiful,” I say as I walk by.
“Do you work here,” she asks me.
“I don’t work here. I just walk here.”
“Well, I wish you worked here.” She embraces me with her smile, a gesture that makes me wish I did work here with this lovely, meditating pavilion princess.
I pass others coming from or trying to find the only bus stop within miles of my home. Sometimes they walk with purpose, but other times, they are lost or confused and in need of assistance. Many of them are trying to find the nearby methadone clinic, their lifeline to the future. A missed bus or an encounter with the wrong stranger could end their recovery and maybe their lives. I look out for them as I approach the bus stop.
With the start of school just weeks away, teens begin conditioning for football and soccer. Teenage girls jog past me in their leggings and sports bras. Their pony tails swing in time to the music they hear from their earbuds. Small packs of teenage boys race past me. They are skin and bones in giant tennis shoes. Youth glistens on their moist, bare backs. I try to imagine these slender, dewy reeds potted in canvas and rubber as intimidating linemen wrapped in cleats and pads and helmets.
I am not alone in my wonder and curiosity. Nature gets in on the act. I share my observations with a bright yellow bird that watches while camouflaged inside a row of trees bursting with yellow-green leaves. A sprinkling of sassy dandelions applauds us all from the edges of the well-manicured lawn where, somehow, they have managed to avoid the mower’s blade.
An hour or more later, I return to my apartment. I feel at peace, connected to my neighbors and to nature, and I wonder: night owls, what do you see?
They paved paradise and put up a parkin' lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin' hot spot…
They took all the trees, and put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got till it's gone
They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot…
As I pulled into the parking lot of a large local shopping center, an earworm wriggled to life inside my head: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…” an old Joni Mitchell hit. I smiled to myself at the memory and the words, and I thought it might be time to hit the pavement at my favorite tree museum, The Franklin Park Conservatory.
I went into Staples and purchased ink cartridges for my home printer. Finished with the errand, I stepped to the automatic exit doors. As they slid open, I heard it.
Like a graceful flock of birds, the notes rose on the air and danced in the twinkling and brilliant sunlight of an unseasonably warm winter day. I was propelled in the direction of the sound and the light. Somewhere nearby, a violin played Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The music was so moving that I felt the urge to both weep and dance at the same time. I was not alone in this. At that very moment, the doors of Target slid open and a tiny preschooler stepped onto the sidewalk and immediately froze in his tracks. His mother tugged on his arm, but he was there to stay, eyes wide and pointed in the direction of the music. Surely, the child saw it for the wonder that it was.
We both stared at a man standing next to a portable speaker. We watched as he swayed and slid the slender bow across the strings of his violin. The instrument’s case lay open beneath a sign sharing news of the man’s financial hardships--his need to pay his rent and support two children. As I dug deep inside my purse for cash, I heard a couple walking by saying it was probably a scam.
I was taken aback by the irony of the situation: people flocking to this shopping center to purchase without question food, pharmaceuticals, and other merchandise from companies that overcharge us, produce products that harm us, and create waste that destroys our environment, yet this gentle man producing beautiful music was suspect. His performance was just too foreign in this land of parking lots, boutiques, pink hotels, and swinging hot spots. In the beauty of the moment, I pledged my allegiance to the wide-eyed child still capable of trust and wonder. I took what cash I had and dropped the folded bills into the open violin case. “The world needs more music,” I said. The violinist nodded his thanks and continued to play.
Filled with anticipation each time I step out onto a parking lot, I bring cash…and I listen. I hope to hear the stop-you-in-your-tracks sounds of that magic violin. Though I wish him well and that all of his needs will be met, I pray this street musician never stops playing. The world needs more music and a little bit of paradise in every paved parking lot.
I am a fool for wonder and for whimsy. Such a combination makes my class of people preschoolers.
Weary from news of war and winter winds, I am hungry for my people. I stop at a small park and sit down on a bench. It feels good to be out in the cool, fresh air taking in the sunshine and the sounds of happy children.
I soon spot a preschooler wearing a knit cap and matching puffy jacket. He looks like a small, silvery cloud with knees. I study him from afar as he studies the world up close. This tiny scientist trains his eyes on the spot where a bug disappeared into the loose black soil. He crouches down so low that his long dark eyelashes nearly brush the ground. He holds this posture like a statue. My own knees begin to ache. I wonder if the child is breathing. “Where did it go?” Before his mother can answer, the boy spots a bright red cardinal on a stone ledge and chases the bird until it fades into the sky. “Does that bird live in heaven?” And it is on to the next thing. The child starts down a gentle slope toward the slide and swings. Letting the momentum carry him, he falls to the ground and rolls. He squeals with delight further encouraging the invisible force. “The grass is tickling me!” And I laugh as the shared momentum carries me into the moment and tickles me too.
Next, the boy busies himself gathering small stones and lining them up on a bench. He talks to himself and to the stones. He gives each one a name. The budding geologist keeps at it until he hears the honk of a goose that has waddled out of a large puddle. The child honks back, and asks his mother, “What did the goose say to me?” He imitates the goosey waddle until he loses sight of the bird in the bright sunshine. I hear him ask, “Why does the sun hurt my eyes?”
The child goes from awed silence to incessant chatter, stillness to fast forward, whatever the wonder calls for, his body responds and his eager mind forms a question. He does not fear looking foolish, getting dirty, or running late. Those are the concerns of adults on a schedule who have stricken time to wonder from their personal to-do lists.
The boy does not pause to anticipate the dangers—the sting of a bee or the brush of poison ivy against his skin. His mother is there. With her eyes ten steps ahead, her body is one step behind. Like the captain of an ancient seafaring vessel headed for a new world, she is constantly scanning the horizon for dragons and the air waves for the siren’s call. A good parent, she lovingly presses on making the world safe for her child’s wonder.
The tot continues to explore and to marvel until both he and his mother are tired. He reaches up for her, and she lifts him into her arms. They go to their car. I give up my front row seat to all of this wonder and go to my car too. I am not tired. I am refreshed. It has been wonderful!