Sunday, October 24, 2010

When A Stranger Smiles

I have to admit that I’ve always been wary of major miracles. Biblically whenever the Red Sea was parted or an arc was built, someone had screwed up royally somewhere. Maybe it’s my own personality flaw, seeing exactly where my life is now, and I should be demanding some major turning water into wine.

I am also keenly aware the pennies add up to dollars. To me, little non-essentials tossed on the ground pile up quickly into guarantees that life is so much more than a random series of events. I don’t know that I always see the glass as half full, but I have made it a point to wear down the square pegs until I can shove them, like it or not, into round holes.

Maybe it’s just that I haven’t noticed when I bend over in the road to pick up the shiny object that the truck would have plowed me down had I not. Maybe instead of finding the comment hysterical I should have been offended. Maybe I’m just more insane than even I imagined. Then again, maybe that’s not so bad.

These days, while admittedly struggling, I find such comfort in the tiniest of miracles. The fact that it is now the last week in October and my Dianthus are still in bloom makes me smile. Knowing most of the leaves have turned and fallen, and most mornings are so thick with frost it looks like snowfall, there are still bright red, purple and orange petals daring me not to sigh every time I step outside. I know it is egotistical, but those hardy little blooms are hanging on as long as they can, just for me.

It’s been too long a time that I haven’t had to have some sort of boost to get me through the day. They always seem to pop up just at the right time, like the lone slug of cool water in the middle of endless desert wandering, saving me from knee buckling surrender and strengthening me into questing further for the proper door. I never knew where they will come from, or what form they will take, but they are always without a doubt right there, in my face, daring me not to acknowledge them.

Not that long ago, driving to work from Rising Sun to Lancaster the day after we had buried my Aunt Irene I realized that it was Friday. Friday was the day she would always give me a ten dollar bill and have me bring home magazines for her to read. She was a hoot; you’d think she was the Ladies Home Journal and Southern Living type. No, Aunt Irene liked the Hollywood rags, not the real trashy stuff, but People, Us and OK.

Sometime between pulling out of the drive way of her home, I would now live in alone until it was ready for sale to strangers, and the 45 minute drive to downtown Lancaster it hit me that it was Friday, and she’d not be needing her weekly dosage of newsprint. I would not be heading home that night and listen to her tell me all that was going on in the world based on what she had just read. She was gone.

The drive to work was uncontrolled pain. I kept my foot on the gas, knowing I had no choice but to continue although my heart racked with pain to my very soul. I kept thinking just let it out. I’ve got a long drive and I’ll be fine by the time I pull in the parking lot. But the tears and the sobs kept coming, causing me more than once to pull to the side of the road just to be able to breathe.

By the time I made it to Lancaster Proper, I was still sobbing, throat and tear ducts raw and chest heaving for breath. I was in no shape for work, but determined to continue. I didn’t know how, as this Tsunamic wave of grief was unexpected and unexplainable.

Lancaster, a small wonderful town in Pennsylvania, is reminiscent of NYC in some ways. (Anyone from Lancaster reading this is probably laughing hysterically) I say this, as the town is made up of a series of very tight, almost familial boroughs. Each of the little divisions having it’s own unique landscape and personality.

My trip to work included crossing into and through what I dubbed “Penns-hispania”. It is my favorite part of the town, an old fashioned series of buildings reminding me of movies set in the city in the ‘50s. Kids played stickball in the street. Neighbors chatted with each other from stoops and the little shopkeepers swept the sidewalks and seemed to know all their customers by name. Of course, this was a Latino neighborhood, without subtitles, so it pressed me to pick up a few words here and there.

There was one traffic light in this neighbor that always caught me. This particular morning was no different. It turned red, and stepped on the brake and waited. As I sat, I continued to sob, crying deafening my ears. I suddenly realized that the crying I was hearing wasn’t my own, but that of a baby in a carriage on the sidewalk right outside my car.

I turned to look, spying a young woman, mid twenties, doing her best to calm the shrieks of a beautiful baby boy. She picked him up, patted his back and rocked him in her arms. The woman was frustrated, but carrying on. For some reason our eyes locked…and she smiled.

In that instant, the miracle of calm seized my body. In that moment the connection that had been broken reconnected enough to give me what I needed to go on. It didn’t make sense, but in those moments it isn’t sensibility that heals, but the warmth of human emotional touch.

I continued to travel that road, alone and broken, for almost a year. Three or four times a week, even when not caught by that traffic light, I would see the young woman and her son. More often than not, there was a brief exchange, the nod of a head, the tilt of a glance or a smile shared between strangers that seemed to give just that extra little tuft to the day.

As these letters form words on this page I struggle to shape into sentences why that story is as important for me to form as it is, I feel, for you to understand. I guess the best way to put it at this point is that you are my smile from a stranger and these words are my smile in return.

I have no idea who you are. We have little, if anything, in common other than we both read English and have access to Internet. But I am here and you are there and for one moment in time I trust that we connect. I hope that we connect.

There aren’t droves of you; just a few and one is all that truly counts. The fact that at one time or another my rabid prose have been looked at on every continent of this world amazes me. The only proof of each others existence are letters I’ve arranged in sequence on a screen, and you being the next higher number in sequence in a column. Some of you I do know or at least know of, but very, very few of you I have actually met in person.

Odd, don’t you think, how personal some of our relationships get with people we only know via cyber-space? There are people who have become such important fibers in the fabric of my world. Twenty years ago, I would have had no chance to brush anywhere near these people, and they do fade in and out. In today’s world, in my world of today, you whom I only know exist via a tick on a screen makes up a reason for me to breathe.

Dear Fabiana has moved back to Brazil, and I haven’t heard from her in two years, but I can still feel her thoughts and prayers for me, as I hope she feels mine. I still get emails from Belle and Carey. Jeff G, Otter and I still comment on each other’s blogs. It should boggle the mind how close and small this cyber world is, but instead it feels comforting, natural and encouraging.

And then, it can be frustrating. I found out a few weeks ago my cyber-buddy Eric Arvin was seriously ill. Having never met the man, not even sure exactly where he is, but it was frustrating not to be able to do anything to personally encourage him or comfort his family.

I felt silly putting notes on his “page” but I was powerless to do anything else.
It’s not like he could say, “Hey Doc, could you move the ventilator tube so I can check my emails?” Fortunately, he has recovered and is back in contact.

Eric is a gifted novelist. (What two, three new books coming out in the next year?) Although we have little in common, his wit and warmth are very much a part of my world. I kind of got to know him as his first book was published, so in many ways I’ve watched the child artist grow into a mature craftsman via cyberspace.

Like you, now reading this. I know nothing about you. You know nothing about me but whatever your mind may glean from these words. It’s not important. What is, is that we have shared an exchange. Although that may not bring forth the parting of the Red Sea in our lives, it has in someway placed another penny in that pile adding up to the next dollar.

I wish I knew your name. I wish I knew where you where. I wish I could add your face to the register of smiles in my head. I wish I could some how say thank you. I wish I could give just a small portion back of the monument that you have given to me.

Then again, maybe none of that is important because as strangers we have shared a smile.