Category Archives: A Moment

There doesn’t have to be a point

Out of the blue, I remembered this blog. It’s been over a year since I posted, and even then it was the tiniest of essays–a micro-essay, I suppose.

I’ve fallen out of the habit of creative writing.

Partly it’s because I don’t have a lot to say these days–so many words out there floating around already, who needs more? Partly it’s because my little writing community drifted apart–I’m not the only one to have essentially retired from writing. And partly because I’ve become more enamored with taking literal snapshots of life via my camera than with weaving imagined snapshots into words.

Though all this is true, I’ve stopped short of closing down this site.

I am finished with writing.” I thought as I skimmed through the archives. “What’s the point of keeping the blog?”

But even as I felt a momentary decision to close it down,  I knew there doesn’t have to be point to keeping this blog. The truth is that the words will return one of these days–and they’ll need someplace to rest.

 

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A Moment: Morning Has Broken

I was driving under overcast skies early this morning, listening to the radio and singing along to “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens. Just as I crested a hill towards the lake, the sun burst through two layers of clouds, flooding the windshield with light. A perfect moment with a perfect soundtrack.

 

 

 

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The Straight and Narrow

The Central Garage at the university is all lines and angles and primary colors. Well lit and dry, an annual white wash keeps the walls fresh.  Angled car stalls are outlined in white against the dark floor like hundreds of chalk outlines at a murder scene. Diagonal crosswalks, the white-striped corridors that offer the suggestion of safety for pedestrians, cut across open spaces between the cars and yellow-painted walkways that lead drivers up and out of the garage into the fresh air.

Three times a week I park in the bowels of the garage.  My assigned parking area is on the lowest level—marked by vivid green —and at the farthest remove from the exit that takes me nearest to my building. So, three times a week, I walk from one end of the parking lot to the other, thoughts tumbling whichever way they will:

Do I need to make copies? Did I bring my key? Is there time for a coffee before class? Will my perennially absent student show up today? Do I care if my perennially absent student shows up today?

Three times a week, thoughts tumbling whichever way they will, I park my car, cross in the diagonal crosswalk to the N-shaped pedestrian ramp from the green zone to the red, and enter the narrow yellow-bordered path painted on the floor.

Sharp right to the end of the row of cars, sharp left along the wall, continue skirting the wall to the exit. Up four flights of stairs and out.

Three times a week, I reverse the process and go home.

It’s unremarkable, really. The parking garage is a utilitarian space for housing my car. It is a space in my day–a physical and mental space–that equates to nothing more than a way—a tool, even—for leaving one thing to do another.

But then one day, I noticed something.

The garage was half-empty as I began my head-in-the-clouds journey from car to exit.

Would anyone actually notice if I parked in the red zone instead of the green zone? Like in that empty space by the exit that I can see from all the way over here? Does anyone even check the permits?

Leaving the ramp, I made the usual sharp right into the yellow-bordered pathway, took a few paces, and stopped.

Just me there, no one else. Not a moving vehicle in sight. The space between where I stood and where the exit sign glowed in the far corner was virtually obstacle free. A direct as-the-crow-flies line was open before me.  And, yet, I had still begun to turn away and unthinkingly follow a painted yellow path along the perimeter of the vast expanse of concrete.

The idea that I’d been doing this—blindly following routines, being guided by painted paths I never really looked at—struck me as simultaneously poignant and silly. Full of meaning, if I wanted it to be. Or not.

It was clear what must happen next. Obviously I had to step out of that path. The narrow path laid out by parallel yellow lines was a painted suggestion, not an absolute.

I stepped out.

But there was an odd momentary pull as I crossed the painted yellow line. Imagined, no doubt.  But it was almost as if my brain wanted to give me a chance to turn back.

“Whoa, there. Are you sure?”

And so it has been. Three times a week, I pull into the Central Garage. I park. I get out of my car. I automatically follow the lines. At the end of the ramp, it takes a few beats for me to remember.

And then I cross out of the straight and narrow, making my way–as a crow does–across, out, and away.

 

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Summer Afternoon: A Moment

I’m at the creek at the farm. I am ten or eleven years old, lying on my stomach on a big flat rock jutting into the low creek, the surface of its lazy trickle of water radiating the heat of summer. Dappled sunlight lights the creek bed lining the bottom of the narrow hollow I’d scrambled down hours before. It’s a while past noon now, and the shadows of the trees along the slopes are just beginning to stretch over me.

I’m looking in the water of a small pool set against the bank, deeper than most of the little water pockets created when the spring melt eroded the sides of the hills sloping above, but not by much. If I lie still I can see water bugs skating along the surface, crayfish scuttling along the bottom, maybe a salamander—black with red or yellow spots—if I pry a stick or stone from the mash of wet leaves and mud at the waterline. The cool water feels good on my hands as I lightly wave them on the surface. Dragonflies zip back and forth. It’s a sleepy time of day.

I don’t know how I do it—maybe I toss a stone in or poke the wrong part of the mud with a stick—but suddenly there is a startled water snake, a black slithering “S” winding its way across the pool. It stops under the hanging tree roots on the far side, turns its head, unhinges its jaws and opens its wide, white-cheeked mouth at me, curving fangs at the ready. It’s not a large snake. It’s not close enough to be dangerous, but this snake has had enough of my meddling. I have threatened it and I’m supposed to pay the price. Cottonmouth. Water Moccasin.

It’s a small one. I do not fear it. After all, I’ve read all the Little House on the Prairie books. I have one of them in the bag lying next to me on this warm rock in the sun.

This is what I have learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels. Nature is beautiful and dangerous and endlessly fascinating. When a girl is in nature, when she sets off to explore the wilderness—even in the relatively tame creek beds of southern Ohio—she must show the proper respect. It is up to the girl to get herself out of sticky situations when they arise.

I remain on my stone, staring, and the snake remains in the shelter of the bank, threatening, until we both get bored and move on to other things. No snake bites today.

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I heard that song

I heard that song. The dreamy, melancholy one.

A father to a child.

And had a moment –you know the ones—

where the world becomes a film and the song a soundtrack.

I looked out at the sunlit day, the lazily turning autumn leaves.

And imagined your child, man-child, in among the tubes and wires and sounds.

Your exhausted wife at vigil.

And the man sings, “May all your days be gold, my child.”

This day is gold. This moment, light here, miles away.

Dark where you are, even at noon, waiting for rare, bright moments of hope—

flashing for a moment here and for a moment there.

The spaces between

shapeless, long, and gray.

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Transitions

It took more than a year for me to lose habit of saying “Oh, Bob’s home” to myself when I pulled up to the house on late evenings  after class.

Bob was a trucker and, in the year after his mother Millie died, the glowing lights behind the curtained windows meant he’d completed his most recent trip. When Millie was alive and Bob was on the road, she’d leave the curtains open, even late into the night, as she watched t.v. and waited for him to return, the flickering blue of whatever she was watching dimly lighting the yard below.

She’d wait and watch and when Bob finally came rumbling down the street, he’d lightly tap his horn so Millie could see him drive past the house on his way to park the truck out back.

On my late nights there are those few minutes between the car and the house, the minutes I pause to take in the evening. Checking the night sky, savoring the evening breeze coming up and over the hills from Puget Sound. They are the moments of transition from whatever I’ve been doing—winding down from the hyperactive mind of teaching a long class or storing the mental release from yoga so I can recall it at necessary times during the week.

I look at the glow of lights from behind our curtains, knowing everything is all right in that little world. I used to glance, too, at the glow of lights from behind Bob’s curtains, knowing that the longevity of long-familiar neighbors settled the world to rights as well.

It’s been over a year since Bob died, over two since Millie did—a family gone within months—but lights still glow behind the curtains in the evenings. The house is empty, the lights representing not Bob or Millie, but the dedication of another neighbor. One who is vigilant at maintaining the fiction that they are still there, that they can still return at any time, that the house is anything but empty.

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Imprint — Thumbprint

I didn’t feel any pain as the knife slid first through the bagel and then through the tip of my thumb. Severing it almost clean, just a small hinge of skin held it in place. A cry of shock, not of pain. No swearing. The rush to the closet, supplies flung everywhere. I grabbed gauze and a washcloth, wrapped the bleeding thumb securely in the bandage, then the cloth, and rubber-banded it into place. I yelled for TK to run next door to the neighbor’s, to ask her to drive us to the Emergency Room.

N____ can be counted on to be prepared for every eventuality. She pulled up to the house, her cooler-sized first aid kit balanced between the two seats in the back. We hopped in. Me, still not feeling any pain but waiting for it to kick in, breathing hard; TK calmly reaching over and patting my knee with her small hand. It wasn’t the first time she’d witnessed a parent-sized injury.

****

I am a skilled and practical driver. I’ve driven the route to the hospital through the narrow, traffic-laden geography of city many times. Some of those trips required both speed and strategy: while in labor with TK, and based solely on physical sensations of the roadway under the car, I called out shortcuts to my husband as he raced us through the dark streets, arriving mere minutes before TK was born.

I know my way up there.

N____, however, is a very cautious driver. She would probably prefer not to drive at all if she could avoid it. She is a person who drives at, or slightly below, the posted speed limits. She will not be hurried and, knowing this, she tries to distract me by brightly making small talk.

N____ pulls slowly into the empty street, comes to a complete stop at the stop sign, and drives north through the neighborhood.

I would have turned south.

She continues on, sure to stop at each of the next two corners, finally turning west onto a major arterial which has, as I well know, three long, congested traffic stops between it and the highway.

I would have cut south through back roads and turned towards the interstate at least two miles closer to the hospital.

In the time it takes N____ to reach the first intersection, the one with the longest light, I would have been at highway, gauging its traffic to plan my next move.

We are a quarter mile in the wrong direction. I would have been long gone.

I want to ask where the hell she’s going, but it is getting more difficult to keep pressure on my thumb. I know as well as anybody the first rule of first aid: apply pressure to a bleeding wound. I’m lightheaded and a little freaked out, but I am also aware that N____ is doing me a kindness on a sunny, summer afternoon in Seattle when no one else can. She is doing her best and I just need to keep my mouth shut, press my thumb into the roof of the car because it’s too tiring to keep the pressure on it any other way, and breathe.

****

Grinding minutes later and we’re still at that first light. The car is inching forward. A long line of traffic waits for the light to change, and when the occasional car turns right, we move haltingly forward just enough. My thumb has started throbbing and pain is searing its way into my consciousness. I listen to but can’t hear N____ and TK talking. Occasionally I’m asked, “Are you doing okay?” Her concerned eyes inspect me from the rearview mirror. I make sure to focus on her question, “Uh, huh.”

The light finally changes. Cars in front of us start forward, then pause as they turn to let pedestrians make their excruciating way across the six-lane street. We are three car-lengths from the intersection when the light turns red again.

****
He is on the corner as he is every day. Awkward cardboard sign, something scrawled upon it in Sharpie. It’s hot. He has no hat, thin white hair and scalp exposed to the glare. He leans towards the window of the first car, says something, backs away. The next car and the next car; he makes his way along the sidewalk. He sees the open window and me watching him. He perks up and walks towards us. “No, no, no,” I plead to myself. “Not today…” And there he is at the window, bending down to look at us, to ask.

His face is unexpectedly smooth behind the gray stubble of a beard just starting, his skin the shiny pink of a burn victim’s, though he has not been burned except by the sun. Watery blue eyes, small and alert, take us in. His sign droops as he leans on the car.

Before he speaks, N____tries to head him off. “We’re headed to the ER!”

“You’re going to the hospital?” he asks.

“Yes! She’s hurt.”

He moves closer. To me, “Are you hurt?”

“I sliced my thumb. I can’t give you any money. See? I have a bandage.” I’m nauseous now; I don’t want to explain. It doesn’t occur to me that I don’t have to.

“Is this your mom?” he says to TK. She nods.

“That’s terrible. That’s terrible you got hurt.”

“Yes. But I’m going to get taken care of.”

He looks at me with concern. He steps back, adjusting his sign.

“I’ll pray for you,” he says. “I’ll pray for you.”

The light turns green.
****
The day passed as expected. It took us a long time to get to the hospital: we hit every red light; we had to take alternate routes to avoid congestion caused by the annual Sea Fair celebrations; we stopped so N___ could wisely rewrap my tight bandage. While my thumb was stitched back together by the doctor, N____ and TK went for lunch, bringing back a bagel sandwich for me. (Bagel? “You’ve got to get right back on the horse,” says N____) Home, then movies, then dinner kindly brought over by our Good Samaritan.

****
The next day I turn north as TK and I drive to the store, stopping at the corners, turning west on the major arterial that I almost always avoid traveling. TK says, “Why are we going this way?”

“Oh, I’ve got something I want to do.”

We slow for the wait at the light, inching forward in the line of cars. He is on the corner as he is every day. Awkward cardboard sign drooping when he stoops at car windows. I hand TK a couple of bills.

“Give those to him when he comes to the window,” I tell TK.

“Why?” she asks.

“Because he did me a favor yesterday.”

“He did?” She’s puzzled. “Okay.”

The man approaches the window. TK gives him the money, and he looks at us both without recognition. We are just two more of the hundreds of people he sees every day. There is no reason for him to remember us.

I wave my bandaged hand at him and say what I wished I’d said the day before.

“Thank you.”

And the light turns green.

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