Carol doesn’t look a bit like my mother. She wears too much makeup, her cheeks rouge red, her hair too black for natural color. Yet she calls me honey, as did my Mom, and she makes sure I have enough to eat.
Leaving home today, I drove a few blocks to the pinnacle of our neighborhood, a stop sign, and idled there. My friend had bowed out of lunch, with regrets, and I was on my own. I had been thinking about losses that morning, glasses half-empty, and I was pensive, melancholy, not good company anyway.
I miss my Mom. I miss my Dad. I miss my crazy fun aunt. I miss my 20-year old cat, my childhood of tree-forts and creek-wading and capture the flag, my red Schwinn bicycle with the basket and playing cards click-clacking on tire spokes. I miss ball in backyards, walking the block with a friend, laying on the top of my Dad’s blue station wagon and staring at the stars, the cicadas’ song rising and falling.
I’m gladly sad to have these losses and misses and time to contemplate them. I stare at the stop sign, surprised that no one has come from behind as I sit here idling too long in a neighborhood well emptied out of office -bound commuters. “Be still and know that I am God,” I recall from a passage I read this morning. I wait a little longer, then motor off right, answering a calling, asphalt singing on tires, choir-like. “Arise, and eat,” I hear, recalling other words from days ago.
I came here by the window so I can eat meat and vegetables and biscuits like I ate in my childhood home and stare out at people who come here--farmers in blue jeans and ball caps, construction workers with clay-encrusted work boots, state workers with ill-fitting shirts and loosened ties, attorneys in suits sans jackets, and college students eating food from home to remind them of where they came from.
These are my people, even while I know they all have a fatal affliction, a crack in their soul that has led each of them to do something wrong, or even yet, who are still caterwauling wildly through life, bent to no good. Broken. But still, I claim them.
When Elijah was being chased by Jezebel (a great name for a villain), he went off into the desert and, dismissing his servant, lay down under a scrubby tree, depressed. “Lord, it’s enough,” he rasped, his throat dry with dust. “I’m done. Take my life. I’m no better than my fathers.” Angels came and attended him, said “arise, and eat,” and his acedia was swept away under that broom tree. I swallow hard, my throat drying.
“Do you want some more ice tea?” Carol offers. Oh, I do, I do, I tell her. Please. As she tips the pitcher over my glass, I remind her once again of our decades-long acquaintance as she migrated from one restaurant to another, all of the same ilk. “That one? That was a good place to work,” she said. “I just came in one day and he said he was closing--that very day. I guess he just got tired of it.” Lord, it’s enough, I’m done, I imagine him saying. I remember his cigarette burning down in the ashtray next to the cash register, his bark from the kitchen, him locking up his loss that last day.
I am not depressed. Not at all. Just supping with the past. Just retracing a few tracks to remember where I’ve been.
“Be still.” Spiritual tenacity is what that’s about, said Oswald Chambers, inverting the usual understanding of the word to “working diligently on the certainty that God is not going to be worsted.” That’s so British. Unperturbable. Stiff upper lip and all. I can’t identify with that, yet I do look around at my people and sense that hope is somehow mustered in that room--in a child laughing, in men and women who will push away and go back to work, in crops that will be replanted, in another day in the office.
On a gray day like this one, with headlines that portend plague and poverty, when the din of voices shouting from the screens around me causes me to lose my bearings, I come here. I sit still. I wait. I listen to the music of conversation. Take, and eat, says Carol. I mutter a prayer. I take up the wafer of the past. I wash it down with the astringent, sweet liquid of the present. I look out the window of what’s to come. Then, nourished, I push back and do the next thing.
I pay the bill.
[The photo was taken by Ken Liszewski. It was Ken’s TV. The idea for it came from the perpetually creative mind of Dave Danglis, of Pinwheel Creative, in Lima, New York. It was featured prominently in the artwork for the 1999 release of Aliens and Strangers, a compilation of Silent Planet Records artists which, along with Tony Shore, I put together for the label. You can still purchase that compilation of singer-songwriters here.]