It’s lego day at the library and the kindly library lady and I have been chatting. We’ve been coming to the library after school every day so library-lady and I know each other by sight. She lives with her parents in the Sunset and has a son who just began kindergarten. She emigrated from China when she was fifteen. Her English is very good and we talk about how great it is to have a grandparent’s help and how much English her son picked up in preschool. And there are only two other Moms in the room. They are both chatting away offering structural advice to their children in different languages. The kindly library lady asks what languages they are speaking. One is speaking Thai, the other is speaking Czech. And suddenly the world is incredibly small that four mothers from four corners of the world can have as much in common as a lego table in the downstairs of a neighborhood library. And suddenly the world is incredibly large that I’m a suburban girl who speaks passable French and reads a mean Spanish billboard in a room with Thai, Chinese, and Czech speaking women. I love this city.
Today this verse is resonating with me. Psalm 18:19 “He brought me out into a broad place…” The psalm talks about rescue. I have never been pursued by a hoard bent on my blood, as David was rescued from. But I do know the sensation of drowning in the details of my circumstances. I know the feeling of suffocating in the overwhelming hum of demands, fears, and anxieties. It’s amazing how each one, small enough on its own, works together to create my own hoard of personal daily demons. Even a house-mom needs rescue. Even a part-time working mom with three healthy babies enjoys the promise of broad places. I want to have these broad places inside me where my situation can’t touch them. I want to walk around with this expansiveness inside my chest.
One of my friends arranged a little late night stargazing last night. They picked me up at 9:45 and we drove our way the last twenty blocks between my house and Sutro Heights Park. We stood for a while there leaning on a chain link fence, the only thing plus three feet separating us from the edge of the cliff. The long strip of the Great Highway demarcated by yellowed traffic lights went out from under our feet. The long black strip of Ocean Beach butt up against it flaming here and there with bonfires of a truer yellow. Here and there the waves cut gashes of glowing white against the black beach. And the city laid out to our left looking so much like the lame attempt of humanity to duplicate the stars, it’s beautiful constellations less interesting in the too ordered lines of streets. There were four of us, bundled against the mist, passing flasks back and forth, talking about our summers, our babies, and the impending start of school. We couldn’t see the stars. The marine layer was thick over our heads.
Someone suggested we drive across the bridge in hopes for a better look. The fog above our heads glowed with the city’s light and leant an unnatural dusk to our steps. Here and there we heard animals scurry. There being coyotes in these parts I carried two sticks, because, you know, that would help. And we saw what looked like a goose coming up, its long curved neck looking back at us.
My friend ran at it and quacked. Then we saw it move.
“Oh, no it’s not a duck!”
“It’s a skunk, get back, get back!”
“It’s tail’s up!”
“It’s going away!!”
“They can spray up to forty feet!” (I stated this unhelpful fact and I’m not even sure it’s true.)
Well, we made it back to the car still smelling like ourselves and wound our way to the Golden Gate Bridge. We felt young and old at the same time, running around with our friends at eleven o’clock at night, yet, tucked in the minivan next to car seats of various sizes with toys and tiny rain boots at our feet. As we climbed the bluffs on the other side of the bridge we realized that we weren’t going to get a better view from up here. We parked and walked out into a cloud. It wrapped around us giving the headlights coming around the bend the glow of wildfire.
We walked up the trail into the dark. The great bridge was below our feet, not far but completely lost in the fog. Its lamps alone delineated the bridge. And the cars driving through looked like sliding LED lights on a display board. The fog was so close it was claustrophobic, pressing it’s immense presence against us with a feather’s touch. The city light it captured and reflected back enhanced the effect of its solidity.
And it was good to be with these women, in our bundled jackets, sharing a dark chocolate bar, and trying not to acknowledge our yawns. We four being just mothers doing our best, working so hard to understand these hearts is our care, and trying to determine with laughter and earnestness where to offer ourselves grace and where to try harder. And the fog engulfing us made us feel small but it was tolerable because we were together.
The city, of course, puts you among people. And in the city you have to be a little richer to buy space between you and your neighbors. The less you have the more you are squeezed out and among the general populace. One great example of this is turning out to be my morning commute.
For example, yesterday I left my apartment and began walking the one and a half blocks to my bus stop. As I near the crossing my bus flies by me. I begin to run. If any aged ladies are getting on the bus I have a chance. So, my backpack is “fwipping” back and forth in that most ungraceful way we all remember from high school, my toes are trying to hang on to my cute little work flats, THEE pair of work flats, and I realize I’m going to miss the bus. At this moment some kind stranger looks up from his handheld device, notices that I am hurrying, panicked, frenzied, and then, and then (!) makes like he’s getting on the bus. He pretends to step up, he vacillates, glances forward at the driver, and steps off as I run up. “Thought that would give you enough time,” he said. “Thank you!” I said. I was on the bus! Way to go humanity.
Now, the church offices are off a lovely street called Van Ness. It happens to be a wide street and one of the main thoroughfares funneling homeless citizens toward the center of town where reside most of the “product” and the services. The five block walk to work can be, therefore, occasionally eventful.
As I’m walking the five blocks towards the offices I am paused at a crosswalk across from a colorfully dressed woman. Now, I have just finished reading an article on the new Japanese decluttering craze that judges a keeper based on joy and that’s what I’m thinking about looking at this woman, that she is dressed for joy. Every item is a different color bright against the others, artfully arranged, I smile. It isn’t until I notice the teddy bear clutched inside her arm that I also realize that this outfit is probably more appropriately chosen by my four-year old then a middle-aged woman and her teddy bear.
But I’ve been looking at her from behind my sunglasses too long. As I pass her after the light turns green she mumbles under her breath, “Keep moving bitch.” I stopped. “Are you talking to me?” I said, “Because I was just thinking…” Now, this is the part where I am going to tell her all about the new Japanese decluttering craze and how she looks like she dressed based purely on joy. Remember I have been bolstered by humanity just moments ago. But she opens her mouth and proves that there is no joy in her. I am raked over the proverbial coals. I AM the f…ing bitch. Osama bin Laden is mentioned. I’m laughing and smiling awkwardly as this woman continues on her way cursing me over her shoulder. Two cars slow down as they turn the corner to lean out their windows and ask if I’m alright. The neighbor outside his mechanic shop said, “So, I guess you got her wrath.” “Is she a regular around here?” I ask, “I’ve never seen her before.” He shrugs.
I have seen her since, trundling down the street, dressed in joy, with a mouth full of curses. Would you believe that the last time I saw her Osama Bin Laden was mentioned again?
Humanity, you contain a lot.