I should have learned this from the decades that I commuted up and down Interstate 79 from southern Braxton County to Charleston and back, but now it is like a new revelation after more than a year of daily walks in my neighborhood.
Every day is different, even along the same routes.
There are wonderful blessings and moments of grace, even in the rain, even when troubling and scary things happen in front of my eyes. As Dylan said, “It’s all right, ma, it’s life and life only.”
This was all brought home to me more forcefully than ever during a recent week of walks.
I’ll share this going backwards.
The week ended with mild weather, a modest but beautiful sunset and a full moon rising over the river and then, from another angle, just to the north of the Capitol dome. This is a holy grail for me as a photographer, even just using an iPhone this past year. Not only that, but peeking through the clouds, with a string of lights below along the railing by the culture center. It doesn’t get much better.
The rain that Saturday brought its own surprises. I got to the Capitol Market right before closing to pick up some eggs. First I was enchanted by the young graduates dressed up for the prom as their parents took photos. It was so cool that they chose this for their venue. Then I saw a few parents I know, including one whose daughter I remember meeting when she was just starting school.
I decided to stay for a pizza at an outside table when I got a text offering me fresh-picked ramps. The perfect thing to go along with my eggs. Plus the treat of getting to see my friends who had picked them.
The more difficult experiences happened earlier in the week, on two different days. One of those was also salvaged by a good Samaritan who was kind enough to share his wisdom.
Both times I witnessed young couples who were fighting in public. In the first instance it was verbal, with the sounds of their voices following me down the boulevard as I walked.
In the second instance there was yelling and physical contact as well, with some combination of pushing and shoving with embracing that was hard to assess from a distance. We were going in the same direction, toward the river, on opposite sides of the street. Finally I sat down on a low wall and just tried to emanate peace in the hope it might help. It did not.
I didn’t think what I saw rose to the level of calling for help, but I also did not fully trust my judgment on this. I saw a man who looked to be streetwise walking up the boulevard and called out to him while waving my arms in a kind of gesture of helplessness.
He finally stopped and turned around and we talked a few minutes, at a distance, with me wearing a mask. He said he knew the couple and that they fought like that all the time. We talked about how people are tense, with good reason. I felt better about my own judgment and he told me to have a blessed day. I appreciated his caring insight this situation.
Then I saw a police car turn around and go up the street where the couple had gone back. Maybe someone else had decided to call them. I just hope it went OK for everyone involved.
There were lots of other, quieter adventures. I enjoyed watching flowering trees reach their peak of bloom and then shed petals onto the sidewalks. Seeing the varieties of tulips and irises unfold in people’s front yards. Hearing the birdsong in the late afternoons. Getting to know my friends’ dogs.
I am also a total sucker for trains and boats pushing barges. I was thrilled to see the westbound Cardinal for the first time since the longer days of last year and to hear its wonderful whistle as it comes into the station. Taking people on trips during a time when I no longer travel.
I almost forgot to mention here the most moving incident of all. I was walking in the rain to the market when I stopped to rest on a low stoop under an overhang near the ballpark. A woman came by pushing a stroller with one child while two young teenage girls followed behind them. I said hello and one of the girls smiled and seamlessly pulled a folded-up dollar from her pocket and offered it to me. I shook my head, told her I was good and thanked her for doing that.
I am also reminded again by how our kids will show us the way, based on their own kind of wisdom. How great is that?
Back home from one walk, I watched a great interview with David Montgomery, a Washington Post reporter. He wrote a long form story about the role of hope during a time when the earth is in peril. I had already been moved and inspired by this story.
His takeaway after talking with people with a variety of perspectives from across the country was that we find hope in taking action.
Hope is not a precursor to acting, as he had thought it might be. I loved his message, which rings true to me.
One of the people he consulted has written about how our relationship to the earth is following the classic stages of grieving. This insight lead me to wonder if maybe we are all affected by a kind of grieving process in a state like ours where we live so close to the land. I realized that people who embrace our former president may be acting from their own sense of pain and loss. Maybe they are just finding different solutions than some of the rest of us.
I thought too about the real grieving happening right here, in our city, where we have just lost another one of our own young people to violence. I no longer follow high school sports, but I am guessing that there are a lot of people throughout our area who knew this young man from watching the games he was in. Plus, of course, his classmates at school must have depended on his presence.
I also think about how our state and city elected officials are denying some of the most caring among us the right to follow the science to prevent illness, overdoses and deaths of our neighbors who are suffering from addictions. The fear of the other that may be behind these decisions is a wound that all of us can feel.
One of the truisms of child welfare is that the children who witness abuse of a brother or sister may be as affected by the trauma as the actual victim. At the same time, nothing can compare to the loss of young lives that we are seeing.
As the Rev. Ron English reminds us, it feels like trauma is a major part of the dynamic that we are experiencing right here and now.
We need to be patient and loving with each other during these most trying times. There are so many cries for help that no one of us can possibly answer them all.
What we can each do is to try to find the strength in ourselves, and within whatever faith tradition we embrace, to reach out, day in and day out, to do whatever we can to try to make things better. This is the active dynamic that translates into hope. Each of us has it within our own power to take action from wherever we are in our own lives.
We only need to lace up our shoes and walk out the door and opportunities present themselves. We can also join with our friends and neighbors to try to make a difference collectively, however we can, on the things that most concern us.
We cannot eliminate the pain or grief when it comes. We can only feel and recognize it, then do our best to open the door in ourselves and convey our openness to others to let the healing begin. As I was reminded in our zoom discussion after church this week, by the man who helped me on the boulevard, and by the young girl I met on the sidewalk.
It is in giving that we also receive as we share together the blessings of the connections we make.