Carrying Charges

It has been a warm and lazy autumn this year, the frost held at bay. The trees still have a firm grasp on their leafy dressing although they are changing from green to firery fall colors. In spite of yesterday’s strong winds few leaves are scattered across the ground at the park but their dry scent is in the air.

In the center of the playing field stands a teenage girl, her feet surrounded by a ring of bulging plastic bags. Her arms bend at the elbows and her hands cover her mouth as if in surprise. She looks around as if waiting for someone to rescue her. But after a few moments she bends down and grabs several bags in each hand and lifting them walks across the field.

For whose help might she be waiting? What cargo is she carrying with such reluctance? What is in those heavy bags, I wonder. Is she a street girl in the making, her bags holding what is left of her memories? Or is her burden more prosaic? Groceries, perhaps, although the nearest store is two long city blocks away?

When she reaches the pathway she stops again, her arms now stretched out long and straight, the bags hanging so low they almost touch the ground. She again looks to the right and left, pauses for a moment then continues down the path that leads out of the park.

As she disappears from my view I hear a voice shouting and when I turn see a middle-aged man with a long blond ponytail and shabby clothes pushing a shopping cart brimming with the flotsam and jetsam of his life. He angrily protests the sanctity of his inalienable rights to the occupants of the patrol car that is closely herding him down the parking lot toward the road.

“Is that what you’re gonna’ do? Follow me until I leave,” he yells, putting out a hand to steady his wobbling cargo. “I served my country now I can’t get a god damn break!” A rusty station wagon entering the parking lot swerves around him as he crosses the street and heads towards the creek. A woman gets out of the car and opens the rear hatch releasing the heavy bass beat of music from the local radio station.

She reaches into to the interior of the car, rearranging a variety of cardboard boxes and bundles. Then leaning against the rear fender, she lights a cigarette, surveys the scene and spots a young man with two dogs straining at their leashes. “Them pit bulls?” she says, squinting against the smoke in her eyes.

The dogs swivel their heads in her direction, legs stiff and trembling. “Yes,” he says as he drags the snarling dogs away from her and stuffs them in a nearby pick-up truck. “Sure look like a handful,” she answers, then flicking her cigarette into the grass, turns with a smile to greet two old ladies who are approaching.

“How are you girls today,” she says, as the two old women push their matching walkers into the park in step and in unison. They wear wooly handmade sweaters accented with bright yarn flowers, thick soled tennis shoes with wing logos and old world kerchiefs around their head.

“I got some real deals for ya’,” the station wagon lady says pulling something from one of the cardboard boxes and waving it towards the old women. “No want, no want,” they exclaim waving their hands in dismissal and continue on their way chattering in an unknown language.

When the black man with the blue jacket carrying a fishing pole and orange tackle box passes her, the station wagon lady pulls a boom box out of the car. Walking beside him she loudly complains that the friend who owes her money has not arrived yet but she can offer him this practically new radio for just a few dollars. Shaking his head, the fisherman picks up his pace and heads towards the pond.

The woman throws the radio into the car, walks to the park exit and with her hands on her hips looks north. When I pull out of the parking lot I pass a young girl standing before the open trunk of her car sorting through a pile of clothing and sports equipment. Why is it, I wonder, do we all carry so much stuff around with us.

In fact, there is a whole industry now that is built on storage – special boxes and drawers and chests and lockers and units to keep the things we once consumed but now cannot swallow. We pay others to keep what we do not use but cannot let go of.

We all have baggage – old stories, old dreams, old memories, old prejudices, old thoughts – and we carry it with us from place to place and job to job and person to person like luggage on rollers. Conscious of our burdens yet unable to release them – we carry our past with us if not in our cars or in our homes, in our souls – we then look for others to share them. But when we compose our online criteria at match.com we demand that ‘no one with old baggage’ need apply.

Autumn Day Dream

maple leavesI looked out of the front door and saw the sunny, leaf-covered yard of my childhood home. A small sob rose in my throat, “Oh, mama!” The scene instantly vanished and my eyes flew open. I had just been sleeping; it was only a dream in an afternoon nap, I realized as I sat up.

As the vision that had rested in my mind’s eye began to fade, the strings of my heart were stretched taut and pulled back into other memories; to a time when the big maple tree ruled the small front yard of my family’s home; to a time when the dry autumn grass would be buried under the bounty of its golden leaves.

Each year my mother would complain over the seemingly endless chore of raking of them and each day more and more would fall. Who would have thought the old tree had held so many in its arms, had been so rich. In my dream as I had looked out on that leaf-filled yard I knew that mother was gone and that it had now fallen to me to brush the ground clean and ready it for the coming winter snows.

In that instant I felt a stab of love for the long departed mother who had been both a support and burden to me throughout my life. “Oh, mama,” was the cry of a child who awoke from a frightening dream with arms outstretched, the cry of a sad girl who felt alone, the cry of a woman asking for forgiveness for her selfishness and neglect. “Oh, mama – love me, protect me, hold me, forgive me. I’m sorry,” all tangled and braided together in one long strand of yearning backward through time like a blind root seeking sustenance.

And while my heart was reverberating to the chord of the past, the maple stood composed and patient as trees so often do while it waited for me to pick up the rake with its worn wooden handle and rusting tines, to continue the yearly ritual of life, to accept the responsibility of its care as had been bequeathed to me – if only in dreamtime.

“Oh, mama,” my heart says as I rake up the scattered pieces of the day and ready myself for the long winter nights to come, “how I miss you.”

Live Long & Prosper

I was looking at my hands the other day and noticed how arthritis has affected the shape and direction of my fingers. Long-term inflammation has freed them from the configuration of conventional finger appearance and allowed each one to wander off in its own direction thereby achieving an individuality and uniqueness not possible in ordinary circumstances.

For example, a v-shaped chasm has developed between my middle finger and ring finger of my right hand. These two fingers can no longer lie parallel to each other but must maintain a 60 degree tangent. In fact, when I hold up my hand the outline is eerily reminiscent of the Vulcan greeting, “Live long and prosper.”

While this digital anomaly may suggest an exclusive membership in an arcane society, it is inconvenient when receiving change from the grocery clerk. Coins fall like rain through that gap. Likewise, when I cup my hands to wash my face, the water immediately drains back into the bowl. When I type the ring finger now rests on the semi-colon rather than the L.

My left hand has two eccentric members at present. My index finger has a wave-like profile with the middle portion flying high and handsome and the end joint concave. The thumb has taken a turn to the right from the main joint making it ready for hitchhiking at a moment’s notice.

When I look at my palms see a maze of crisscrossing lines that I am reluctant to read. Is that my life line that splits in two so precipitously? What does the line of destiny reveal? I turn them over and see the scattering of brown age spots and high blue veins. I see skin that is now thin and fragile looking.

handsI see the hands of my mother and of my grandmother and of all the other women who had the privilege of aging. When I look at my hands I no longer see knobby fingers and bones and wonder what happened to the girl/woman I used to be. I see hands that have made beautiful by life, hands that have been sculpted by experience.

These are the hands that have wiped the noses of children and brushed away another’s tears. They have held lovers in the dark of night and clasped friends in times of celebration. They have been turned into fists of anger and hung loose in sorrow. They have scrubbed floors and painted pictures and planted gardens.  They cover my face and hide me from the world.

These hands have taken and have received, have comforted and sought comfort, have worked and lain idle. They have been folded in prayer and opened in love. They have learned to hold on and to let go. They have served me well all my life and have been made beautiful by that service.