The local news helicopter circled over the neighborhood this afternoon, and – since news coverage tends to go where there’s calamity, and since (Lord knows) there’s been plenty of that lately, and since my grandchildren are now loose in the ‘hood on their bikes – my mind ran the gamut of concerns: traffic accident, incident with a train on the tracks, crime, fire, road rage, escalating international tension (or worse), or . . . well, you know the litany.
The station’s live stream provided both explanation and comfort: the 168th St. Joe picnic in Crescent Hill is getting underway. Folks of all persuasions are gathering, once again, to participate in a beautiful community ritual to support the kids. Frosty beverages will be enjoyed, cake wheels will be spun, there’ll be stories told, and laughter, a few folks will walk home and come back tomorrow to try and find their cars, and the whole neighborhood will relax into a routine of doing something good together, for folks they may not even know. Because, under our crusty shells, it’s who we are. Thanks to everyone who puts in the hours of work to make this happen. Again. And thanks be to God.
Driving from our neighborhood one recent afternoon for a routine errand, I saw twenty seconds of drama unfold at the corner. A young dad and his three- or four-year old daughter were out for a walk together, and something she had done had displeased or disappointed him, or threatened her safety. He was on one knee, his face on her level, speaking softly but intensely to make sure she heard and understood. He shifted his weight to stand, his eyes emphasizing his words of instruction or caution, said another word or two and stood up.
There was just a moment’s pause before she took a step forward, wrapped her arms around his legs and buried her face there, her shoulders making it clear she was crying. He put his hands lightly on her back and comforted her as I turned the corner and lost sight of them.
It was no surprise that I felt a strong identification with the dad, as I remembered times with my own kids – and now my grandkids – when I walked the balance beam between unbending Drill Sargent and comforting Earth Mother.
I was very surprised, though, that I also identified with the child. I’m aware, again and again, that I still need both those influences for the grownup walks I take these days. Words of uncompromising challenge balanced with warm acceptance – sometimes each coming from an individual specializing in a particular element, and sometimes – like the father of the young girl in my neighborhood – wrapped up in a single presence.
May I be open to receiving all the facets of instruction and guidance I need. May I have courage to offer all that others need.
Stopped at a traffic light mid-day in early spring, my eye was drawn to movement in the tree beside the road. In the highest branches, a crow was busy selecting, pulling and tugging small twigs. I was first impressed with his dexterity – the branches were tightly packed, creating a daunting thicket for so large a bird, but he hopped, turned and hopped again, expertly navigating the dense treetop.
Shortly, though, I was even more impressed with his persistence. There had been just enough warm weather to make the twigs pliable. They didn’t snap off easily, but bent from the effort of the crow’s labor, making it difficult for him to separate them from the larger limbs. He worked with patient focus, though, choosing first one and then another, until the twig surrendered its attachment to the tree, and belonged to him. And off he flew, carrying his loot . . . where?
Well, of course. He wasn’t working with such dedication because he wanted a twig. He wanted a nest!
I followed a pickup truck out of town one day last week – not a shiny, showy truck, but a real work truck, with side-mounted toolboxes and a bed full of tools, ladders, ropes and other hints of the hard work in store for its driver.
Our vehicles summed up just how different his work day would be from mine. I was headed out of town in my compact hatchback, wearing a suit and tie, briefcase at my side containing more technology than was once needed to send rockets into orbit . . . and then document the trip in high-definition video.
Then I noticed the emblem on his bumper: a single upper-case letter, with a name identifying the public middle school in my neighborhood. It was the school my own kids had attended thirty-some years ago, and now attended by many in my neighborhood. Suddenly I felt not nearly so separated from this truck driver, as connected to him, as we both headed off to do the jobs that would provide for families we loved.
Our vehicles were as different as our jobs, but we held in common the impulses that drove us. I breathed a prayer of blessing on him and his day, for grace and peace, and a safe return home.
Lots of good advice has come my way over the years – among which is the precaution not to try to solve complex problems with simplistic solutions. One favorite quote is attributed to Einstein (and others): “You should keep things as simple as possible . . . but no simpler.”
To avoid being overwhelmed by problems, wise friends have advised, “Do the next right thing.” But recently I’ve wondered if the best right thing is always the next one. How about “Do the right next thing”? Does that introduce an element of judgement into the action? And how do we determine just what next thing is right?
On my way to my favorite Indianapolis restaurant (Rock Bottom Brewery), stopped by Ossip – the Optician’s shop – to get new nosepieces for my glasses. Buffy put them on my frames, and pleasantly announced, “There’s no charge, but you COULD contribute a dollar to this weekend’s Vision Walk.”
After several days of wrestling with customer non-service, I was glad to agree: “I most certainly could!”