Todays Walk: It Begins

It begins when I know that silence will hurt me and those I love, when the comfort of my life will not insulate me from the damage that will afflict millions for years to come if I am silent.

It begins with a 4 a.m. ride to the airport on Inauguration Day to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight to Baltimore. It begins with the bleary eyes and determined smiles of enough marchers, many of them march-virgins like me, to fill a Southwest Boeing 737 plane. It begins with smiles and shouts of encouragement as we all stream off the plane four and a half hours later to wherever we have cadged housing for the weekend.

It begins the next morning when we start the way we start any walk. Boots on, coats zipped, uncertainty about what we will find. There are the last-minute pocket checks with husband and friends who are sharing their apartment with us so we can all march together today. It begins with a step, then another, and then the four of us melt into twenty, fifty, then hundreds who have abandoned the metro and are walking the two miles down to the place where we all intend to walk some more.

It begins with cutting across a park where mostly men and a few women who normally gather their to wait out one more homeless day watch our warmly-dressed selves flocking with other warmly-dressed people bearing signs, wearing smiles, not quite looking back at those who are watching.

It begins with sense we are close now, as we approach 7th street which is not far from the start, and is to be one of the places that, if all else, fails, will open and let us onto the march path when it is time. We feel the sense of arrival. Any minute now.

It begins with the press of bodies, the faces of children grinning from parental shoulders as they dodge signs toted by all those around them. We are body to body and more bodies keep coming as if the land itself is giving rise to them, birthing them in fertile bursts from all corners of the mall and beyond. I am minuscule cells in this giant swelling, sinuous, powerful muscle of humanity. Yet I am here. I am held up by the bodies around me. None of us can move single foot in any direction unless the others help us.

It begins with the understanding that we have, in fact, arrived. The official starting point is no longer reachable. The streets cannot contain us all and we’ve spilled out onto the mall, the side streets, the steps of stately buildings, lamp posts, the tops of rented vehicles used the previous day. When there is space, more bodies fill it. We must begin where we are. We must begin not knowing where it will lead. We must begin not knowing how long it will take, only knowing that to be here today is to commit to what is needed tomorrow, then the day after that, then the day after that.

It begins.

God, Love, and Dog Poop

Chloe

Chloe

I took Chloe for a walk not long ago and ran smack into a lesson on boundaries, dog poop, and the love of God.

We had only gone a few steps when my ears picked up the voices of two women who regularly walk by, usually in the late afternoon. They stride down the middle of our street as though it is the yellow brick road and they and their two small dogs are twin versions of Dorothy and Toto. Their laughter precedes them and lingers in the air after they sweep past.

They weren’t laughing on this day though. One of the women peeled off from her companion, words spewing furiously. I caught the words, “he,” “job,” “asshole”  and watched, stunned, as she marched up our driveway to the garbage can against our house’s wall and threw a a loaded bag right into it.

“Hi,” I said, or something like that. Her companion looked at me and smiled so I went on in what I thought was my calm, reasonable, “adult” voice. “Normally, people ask first.”

By this time the poop-tosser was already back down on the road, charging past us. Her friend, made of softer material, hesitated. “I’m sorry, we didn’t know it was your house.”

The tosser, now well ahead, turned and yelled, “For the love of God, it’s a GARBAGE CAN!”

The friend shrugged apologetically and she and her dog scurried to catch up.

I seethed. Chloe tugged on the leash but I was immobilized by astonishment, resentment, embarassment, fury, righteous indignation, a sense of violation and, of all things, denial: Even as I seethed, I was telling myself that this was nothing. It didn’t matter now and wouldn’t even come close to mattering in 100 years when all of us would be dead.

I thought that denial was my maturity showing but really, it was just a ramrod I was using to stuff down all the discomfort that kept churning its way back up. The fact is, I felt trespassed against, ignored, run over by a sleeker, more powerful train.

Then Chloe tugged again and I began to move. The women were out of sight. For the first few steps, I wanted to chase them down to explain just exactly how wrong they were and how right I was. There’s a code, unwritten but nevertheless followed by most of us, involving reciprocity, proximity of garbage can to curb, whether or not the owner of the can is a dog owner and other provisions that my inner lawyer cited with force to my inner judge and jury while my ego clapped and the small sane person inside me rolled her eyes.

But as my small dog kept nosing her way forward, lost in the richness of my neighbor’s lawn – enjoying it fully even though it was not hers or mine – I became aware of my own breath. It was out of sync, pent up. It wanted to get out and just escape all that toxicity. Suddenly, so did I.

IMG_1787

I tried this thing I’ve been practicing for a long time now without consistent success: being mindful of my own breathing. I tried really hard to focus on each breath and let the anger do whatever it wanted to do. Turns out, when I wasn’t stoking my fury with one angry thought after another, it settled down. My chest relaxed and I almost laughed out loud at the thought of myself chasing her down. Perspective returned like grace. Something like forgiveness filled me but also gratitude – grudging perhaps but gratitude nevertheless – for the encounter.

The cans weren’t mine. Taxes pay for them and they are given to us by the city when we move in or are passed on by previous owners when we buy the house. We all pay for them. And those of us who believe in God would probably agree that she does not worry much about whose garbage can receives the poop. Those of us who don’t believe in God probably still believe in love with all its gentleness, strength, excitement, renewal, and demands. For still others of us, God and love are virtually the same and sharing is part of the deal we make no matter where our belief lies.

Whose trash can is it anyway?

Whose trash can is it anyway?

The poop tosser may have been rude but she was probably also suffering that day too judging by the heat of her diatribe and the need she had to spill out her frustration to her friend and to me. In the end, she was a fellow traveler who without realizing it asked me a tough question and then left me alone to wrestle with it:

If I can’t share my garbage can, just what am I prepared to share?