Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Love on a Monday

Yesterday morning I dropped Silas and Ruby off like I do every day, where the sidewalk splits, kissing their faces and whispering final thoughts. We were running on the later side, kids filed into the building for breakfast and learning. Another Monday morning. I pushed ear buds into place and headed toward the walking path. It had taken just one complaint about a sinister looking guy watching me from up under the eaves of the bridge before Cory ordered me a can of pepper spray. I often wonder if I'd even know what to do with it, or if it's one more hassle I'll never use.

The leaves are just starting to fall, brown and not at all beautiful, the first to give up. I listened to a friend as she burned her sweet potatoes from across the miles, delivering the sweetest monologue about the ways a family can turn on a dime, how we're so much readier to offer love than we could imagine, how we're more resilient than we even know. Her laugh rang in my ears, effervescent. Monday was off to a fine start.

I saw him from a short distance, sitting alone on the bench, his dirt bike cast aside. I did the necessary, knee-jerk mental math, calculating risk and plotting myself on a map no one else was close enough to see. I said hello. Made eye contact. He did the same and we were fine. We were fine. I kept on walking.

I walk because I want to know my place is lovely. I walk because I want to know I belong. So if I happen to catch dew bouncing light off the leaves of a very tall weed, or the sun slants just right through trees and breaks the asphalt into a million stunning promises, I will stop to take a picture. There's no other way, and I don't care to return to the days when I didn't notice.

Stepping out from the brush, he blew past me on his bike, turning around just a little. It was that fraction of a moment, that slight twisting of his neck, that worried me. No doubt, that's the only reason I'm still talking about him today. The truth is, I will never know what he was thinking, or why he sat there early on a Monday morning. But I know it made me nervous, and I know I wouldn't have felt the same if his hair were tidier, his clothes less baggy, or if he'd worn a helmet like the good work commuters do. He was probably my people - one of the lost boys of this city who prowl the streets alone, avoiding eye contact while begging someone to look them in the eye. My gut knew we were kin, but my brain protested. Isn't that what life asks of us, to lean heavy on the scale of our perceived self protection?

Well, I've been called a fool before.
I walked the rest of the way home, past spitting-mad pit bulls and windows dressed in plastic. I saw morning glories creeping through chain link and saw myself, not sure whether I was the flower or the fence.

I came home asking questions, "How can we be nearer to one another today? What do we have to offer? What do we need? How can we carry love with an open hand?" A few minutes later, a police officer sauntered past my window and I edged it up so I could hear the drama through the screen, like any good neighbor would do. No lights or sirens, their cars eventually pulled away, and that's when the shouting began. Monday morning, and some of my neighbors hate each other. Monday morning, and you couldn't tear me away from this busted up place with its busted up people.

Cory and I have cycled back down into some kind of emotional low place. At least now we know to expect it. I worry about repeating myself here, frustrated by the way my heart wants most to write the hard stuff, skewing my reality and what filters out to you. Please remember, so much goes unwritten, especially the beautiful mundane that holds us together between the rough spots. Just this morning a neighbor boy at the bus stop showed me his broken pinky finger and I wished for two strips of tape to hold it steady against his ring finger while it heals. That's what we are. That's what we do. Sometimes I'm the sideways pinky. Sometimes it's you.

Here's what I know today about love - it demands every cell of me. It requires long stretches of wandering through the parts of life that have had the color sucked out of them. It means losing sleep over children who call me "Mrs. Martin," or, "Calvin's mom," or who don't call me anything at all. It means almost giving up - almost - before remembering the heart truly does not choose who to love, and my heart loves folks who might fall into early graves with a twist of track-marks only mapping half the places they've been. It might happen. It might be happening. If it does, they'll know I love them to the bitter end. They'll know none of it mattered, not really, and that I always knew there was hope, I always saw them through the lens of their healthiest self. They were welcome at my table and their jokes never lost their punch. Their eyes, as dim as they might have been, never stopped bouncing love and light back to me.

Love means sitting together in sadness, in the dark of night, driving drunks home and hearing their pain. It also means feeling it with them, grabbing a corner to lighten the load in ways that might be imperceptible, but believing it matters anyway.

Love means powering off my phone. Love means burning the noodles and showing up instead with just potatoes and cabbage - this is all I have to offer. It means you'll heap it onto your plate, tease me, and talk to me about what's real in a sacred space carved from our collective doubt.

Love means hearing, "I'll do anything to make it up to you. Anything," and realizing the only thing I want is to keep him by my side, to have him near, to know he believes all my truths were forged for him, too.

Love is a back-rub. A pile of tear-stained kleenex.  A brand new set of teeth, offered free of charge. It's telling the hardest truth and believing we'll survive. It's answering the phone after midnight. It's asking the complicated questions, mining my history and spreading it out in before me for a long, honest look. This is where I came from. This is how I got here. This is why I stay.

Love means being willing to be lonely. It means feeling out of place so others can feel known. Love means having little but offering it anyway. It also means having a lot but realizing it's not helpful in the first place.

At first glance, my Monday offered little opportunity to love and be loved. I hate feeling ordinary. I miss the days when life buzzed with double-shots of emotional espresso. It made for good stories. It made me feel useful. It made the days fly by.

But when I stay stubbornly awake, pinching my arms and slapping my cheeks when necessary, I notice that love often lives somewhere in the spin of tires, the whir of lawnmowers, the school bells, the timer on the stove. Love loves slow and quiet places. It dares us to enter in, where we cannot be distracted by the bustle and where emergencies show up small.

In and out. On and on.
We are all still very much alive.


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