Mary Bogue is always wondering about how we walk through life, and sees it as a dance; sometimes we're wearing high heels and doing the tango backwards in a man's arms, other times we're line dancing in flats while picking up after kids, and when we're lucky, we're barefootin' it freestyle.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
He raised his hand to me. Right there in the light of day. He, in his plain, dark clothing, wore a black hat but didn't hide behind sunglasses with an anonymity you would think one might claim given the circumstances of the bright sun. He raised his hand to me boldly, without hesitation and looked me in my eyes while doing so. He was older, unshaved and his hands were rough like sandpaper.
There was not a trace of manscaping in his appearance, nothing flashy nor outstanding, except for how absolutely plain he was, yet his weathered face said more about him than I could imagine. I had never met him before, did not know his name then and still don't. This stranger remains anonymous to me but well known where he lives. He has family, that much I do know. And yet I was the stranger in the strange land, where time stood still in that brief moment when he claimed for himself a bit of my soul. He marked me. His face was captured in my mind's eye like a black and white photograph from my grandmother's photo album, names no longer known, only the fading image remaining in shades of black, white and gray. He was a man without any family pictures of birthday celebrations, weddings, family picnics, new grandchildren or even one tattered photo from his own childhood. I knew that if I wanted to recall him with great clarity that I would have to memorize that flash where time stood still.
It was a day like many others for him and like no other for me. After the encounter, I continued my way going nowhere with intention, down a hushed road with the sun beating overhead in a postcard blue sky. He was used to it most certainly, his thick clothing betraying the 90 degree weather, but the cloying, sticky June humidity made me uncomfortable and I wanted a rush of refrigerated air to surround me.
I looked in the rear view mirror and watched him slowly disappear as I continued forward on a road bookmarked with perfect symmetrically planted rows of corn still close to the ground; the dirt a rich dark brown, damp from the rain the night before punctuated with clapping thunder. I passed a perfectly maintained white house with a clothesline. A clothesline. If I had one in my front yard I would most certainly have the local authorities knocking on my door. Here, it was natural and the fleeting light gusts of wind turned the blue dresses, blue shirts and dark aprons into a vine of hanging fruit never seen where I live in the outskirts of Los Angeles.
For a moment I longed for my own car synced with my iPhone, and instead I reached for the radio dial but stopped. The man in the rear view mirror was almost completely gone now, nothing but a black square in the reflection. Forget the music. I rolled down the windows of my rented black car and drove on thinking about just how rushed we city dwellers are. We can't even enjoy a meal in public without checking our phones for texts, let alone accepting a phone call that is neither urgent or commanding, all the while ignoring the fact that our friend or family member or coworker is just across the table from us.
He marked me, as did the next man coming towards me. He too raised his hand to me, and this time I returned the gesture. His wife sitting next to him with their two girls in the backseat, eyed me suspiciously, no trace of a smile, just a nod of acknowledgement. Still it was more than I would ever get at home on the freeways. If someone raised a hand to me there, it most certainly would have a middle finger extended because I had the nerve to want to merge into another lane. Their getting closer to me came with a cadence that pierced the quietude. It was the steady, rhythmic one-two beat of clip-clops that their sturdy, chestnut-colored horse and the creak of buggy wheels on asphalt offered up to me. If one listened with appreciation, it was music, and the brush of reins on horseback was no different than brushes used on drum skin by my best jazz drummer when I sing a ballad.
There were no lanes on this Illinois country road. The only way to know where you were exactly was to know where you were in relation to the sun and by whose property you passed, and every once in awhile an intersection which criss-crossed the verdant farmland. There was no exhaust to cough as the strangers passed by me, only that which I left behind for them to inhale as I passed them. It felt embarrassing and for all of my own big city ways, I knew in my heart that I was the primitive one. An evolved society leaves no footprints; carbon or otherwise. Their boot prints in mud dries long enough to bear witness to hard work, but the next rain washes them away and the growing crops are the legacy of the men's arduous work and the sweat of his brow.
I raised my hand as the next black buggy approached and nodded the nod that comes with the recognition we should offer when in the presence of strangers. It is afterall, a human acknowledgment of soul meeting soul. I slowed my car out of deep respect. Where was I going that I needed to go with so much "horsepower"? I was there to witness the peace of Amish country and the lesson was driven home to me. As each passing black buggy or open wagon approached me with the steady whir of wooden wheels, I realized that the wave was very specific. When the driver raised his hand to me, it was with with the index and middle finger slightly separated from the others on the left hand and the other two fingers slightly curled downwards, the thumb relaxed and pointed upwards. And then it hit me, I had seen this before, this was the "hand of benediction," a blessing. I have no idea if the strangers realized it, but I was never more keenly aware.
He raised his hand to me and I was blessed. I think I shall never wave the same way again to a passerby. I too shall slightly nod my head, recognizing the spirit in me sees the equal spirit of oneness in them, as I raise my hand and extend a blessing. I'm not sure how if it will work back home on the 405 Freeway, but for now I will continue to use it on my journey. Wherever your journey takes you today, may you know that we are one and our legacy is what we leave behind. May we strive to leave a better place than we found yesterday and know that each of us is as spokes of a wheel; we really need each other to get along, and to get along down the road of life, we need each other.