August 1st, 2005


these things we do, when we will

When I turn on the television, there are bells, and whistles, and crying mothers and missing children. One small face layered atop another, their features becoming indistinct, their tragedies just bleeding into one another until you don't really think about the fact that this little girl with the long brown hair died in a burlap bag underneath loosely packed dirt or that that boy was killed as his sister watched, knowing he was the last member of her family left and that she was the only one to survive. It's like there's some kind of cancer eating away at the basic decency of people, my grandmother said this morning as the two of us sipped coffee and scrutinized the same photographs of Natalee Holloway that have been flashing up on our screen every day, several times a day.

"She's dead," my uncle says dispassionately from the refrigerator. "Damned shame."

And we all agree, and eat our toast and end up getting more upset about the fact that somebody poured themself a cup of coffee and left behind just enough to fill a third of somebody else's mug without setting up a new pot than we are as we sit, grave faced staring and nodding at experts who clinically say things like "The girl was sexually molested". We fight over the last of the strawberry jam, and unheeded, Natalee Holloway smiles at us with flat, unliving eyes from the television.

"A cancer," my grandmother will say, when she notices, and shake her head, and I can visualize it sometimes, some kind of black evil coiling around people and pulling them closer and closer still toward houses that tremble behind their landscaping, toward beds that nearly swallow the still forms of children who lie paralyzed and frightened in the dark. "It's all bad," I'll think, and the feeling will sit with me -- oily, uncomfortable, terrifying as I watch my little cousins tumble over each other like puppies in the short grass of the backyard.

I'll tip toe down stairs in the night and check the locks on the doors, though there's hardly been a single crime where we are in the past thirty years because that feeling, that "It's all bad", hangs over my shoulders like a thick, uncomfortable shawl.

And that, in all of this, is the lie. "God's all good, all the time, all over the world, God only allows the good" my aunt says, from time to time, and that's a lie, too. I can't speak for God, but I can't find any good in the death of a child, standing still and pale as a cruel hand covers her small mouth, but I can say this: that is not the only thing. There is so much more than that.

This summer, I had the chance to drive from one end of the country to another. I drove from South to North, and I'll tell you, that even with all the hollow eyed monsters that you see on your nightly news, there is so much true goodness out there, too. I drove in fits and starts -- which is actually the only way I can do anything, it seems. But had it not been for my eternal need to pee (seriously, my bladder is essentially the size of a fruit fly, which is surely more about me than you all ever need to know, I"m sure), I wouldn't have stopped nearly as much as I did.

I keep thinking of the lunch I had in Savannah. On the porch of the restaurant there was a regiment of rocking chairs, and an old man with cotton white hair sat in one of the tan ones by the door. He was so thin, you'd think that if you held him up to the light, his bones would be visible through his skin. I have this tendency to smile whenever I make eye contact -- it's like a reflexive nervous tick, I don't know why -- and when I smiled at him, this man cackled, and literally slapped his stick of a thigh.

"I've been sitting out here, waiting to open a door for a pretty girl," he said, and levered himself upright slowly, cautiously before tugging hard on the shining brass door. It took all of his body strength to hold the door open for me, but his eyes sparkled when he did it, and all because of a simple smile.

In North Carolina, I stopped at a gas station, where a little boy had lost his mother. It was one of the bigger Mobil Mart type places, and he was wandering through the aisles, his freckled face folded and confused as he gripped tightly onto the neck of his shirt and whimpered, "Ma?" over and over. I was going to go help him find his mother when this big trucker with red, smudged hands kneeled down in front of the boy. The trucker was missing his front tooth, and wore a vest open over his bare chest. A tattoo of an eagle was peaking out along his collarbone, and at first I was worried I was about to see a tragedy play out, and so I stumbled toward them, when the guy covered the boy's entire shoulder with his hand and said, "Hey pal, listen. This is kind of embarrasing, but I'm a little scared to go outside alone, but I'd sure love to help you find your mama. Mind holding my hand and coming with me?"

He stayed with the boy for twenty minutes until the harried mother showed up.

In Connecticut, my cell phone went out while I was at a rest stop, and I needed to call ahead and make a reservation on a ferry. A woman standing next to me, hearing me mutter to myself, just handed me her phone and said, "A roaming minute or two isn't going to kill me," and let me make the call even though she wasn't in a covered area.

I don't particularly have a point, I guess. I'm just saying -- look outside. Look out your window right now, and you will, without a doubt, see something beautiful. You can probably think, without trying to, of one kind thing you saw somebody do today. There are horrible things that happen, all over the globe. There are horrible things that happen to us, to people we love. But if you can't see the good alongside it, then you're just not looking. This is fast becoming my new mantra, and being a rather unremittingly critical person myself, I have to repeat it over and over as I go through each day surrounded by twenty (20, yes) family members, but God, it's true. And it's worth remembering.
  • Current Mood
    grateful grateful