Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Gospel of Flea Markets

They've been saying Spring is coming, that it's waltzing our way.  I didn't believe them until yesterday.

My right hand clamped around Silas's, my left carried a loaf of French bread and ten plum tomatoes. We pushed the button, waited for the signal, then I pretended to be brave while we crossed four lanes of city buzz.

I eyeballed the Buick that stopped too closely for my comfort and it struck me that my kids will grow up believing that cross-walks and city streets and cars, cars, cars are ordinary. This is the wild that will raise them.

I was raised by stretches of green and a wide yawning sky. My wild was sticky afternoons with no where to go, drippy orange push-up pops and forest moss beneath my sneakers. We tended carrot seedlings in a secret garden, crafted make-shift slip-and-slides and swam in giant plastic trash cans. I never once played with a neighbor because there was no neighbor. So I hid in the forsythia with my brother and caught craw-dads in the creek instead.

Maybe there were questions to ask back then, and maybe my parents asked them. But it seems to me that the answers must have all been easy.

Is there a way to make my kids believe the same, twenty-odd years from now?

I exhaled on the other side of the street, the scariest, "citiest" leg of the trip behind us.

We tossed a letter into the big blue mailbox. I sat on the sidewalk and held Silas in my lap as a train screamed past. We kept on walking.

We stepped over broken beer bottles and tried not to notice the trashed-out mess around us.

We walked the back blocks where no one goes unless they have to. It's Poverty Alley and you'll know it by its smell - that unmistakable scent of decay and lost hope.

Silas held my hand, saying on repeat that I'm cute and he "still" loves me. I caught his falls as he tripped along the buckle and crumble of sidewalk that someone keeps pushing to the bottom of the repair list.

We smiled and said hello to neighbors with cigarettes dangling from their lips. Their teeth were missing, their hair greasy, but their eyes were just as kind as yours. Sheets covered windows and pain lined their faces, but they thought my son was cute and daffodils pushed up around them in patches. It was spring in their yards, too.

I'm a collector of the discarded and the worn. I've paid cash for five defunct sprinklers because they're quirky and I'm fond of their rust. I don't mind taking the quilt that's fraying at the edges - I prefer it, in fact. The flower pot is chipped? Hand it over. The knob is broken? Sure, because it tells a story.

I've chosen to decorate my life with things that someone else has rejected. Things that aren't done living, things that can be bought for a song. They still have something to offer and maybe I can provide the context to prove it.

Why is it so different with people? My instinct is to back slowly away from the broken and the hurting. Why do I strain to see the beauty in their chips and dings?

For years I've convinced myself that my love is earmarked for the broken like me. I'm more cut out for middle-class heartache, thank you very much. My solidarity is with people who think/act/talk/smell/live like me.

I'd really rather forget about the dead streets covered by canopies of oppression. I'd like to never know in the first place about the boys who lurch down them at dusk.

I want to look away. To hide. To pretend life could always be what it was when I was eleven.

But I'm learning the beauty of meeting the eyes around me. I'm forcing myself across the busy street and I'm doing it with precious cargo, not because it's natural or even because I always want to, but because I suspect it's the only way I'll learn that we're all the walking wounded.

I used to think God gave me a particular heart to love the tattered things that other people pass over. Only now do I see the incompleteness of that belief.

I am called to love broken people. Loving broken things is just a hobby.

 My childhood was a dream. It shaped me. I see no fault in it and I'll always thank my lucky stars.

But my kids were called someplace different.

My hope is that everything that jars my senses and makes my heart lurch will become their ordinary wild. My prayer is that they'll walk with ease to their neighbor's table and notice early the way shards of amber glass can catch spring's light.