Little surprises keep me on my toes:
A hot pink condom wrapper on the sidewalk.
That first whiff of leaves, ancient and crushed upon each other when you realize it’s fall.
Little girls exclaiming they feel the earth tremble under their tennis shoes. My horror to discover “the tree” they feel, is actually an electricity pole, with no telling what secret energy vibrates below.
The surprise of an afternoon car ride and the gift of four perfectly-ripened tomatoes from a
Pennsylvania farm stand.
Twenty-two geese floating on the Brandywine.
Two apples we hand to the kind man with a bum leg and one crutch who approaches us, fleeing across the Wendy’s parking lot to catch a bus at a yet unknown stop. We reach into our over-flowing grocery sacks – it is criminal to run away from someone who is homeless, who has diabetes, and who would like something to eat.
One bus ride I should have suggested we miss.
* * *
On Saturday, I sit upstairs and look out the window of my shared room: a cool breeze, dim light, the sound of crickets. It rained the night before, long and silver-sounding. A thorough soak. Days like these, I realize life’s going fine, I can be here. The neighborhood starts to hum – dishes clanking next door, a new kind of reggae reaches my ears from the Jamaican neighbors to the right, push lawn mowers and kids tear around in the distance. I begin to intonate all things familiar.
From the window I look down over our patched porch roof to our tiny wedge-shaped garden. The roses – pink and peach and pale blush – hang ripe, open and peaked to a full-flush. Petals have begun to scatter in delicate wind-blown flourishes along the grass. The garden itself, overgrown and tangled, is strung together with shoestrings and branches. Beautiful and productive all the same – sweet basil tucked in every nook, slick green peppers, limey-jalapeos, yellowing squash of an indecipherable variety – butternut? spaghetti? and elegant Swiss chard stalks of a most crimson red. Behind the central bed, along our back wall, Bethel’s Spanish sunflowers have full, burnt orange heads and grow tall and wide, unfurling long arms and tendrils into every open space. Flitting about, tiny white butterflies – perhaps more scientifically classified as moths – take care to commune with the flowers. And here beneath our wall of abundant violet-throated morning glories, a small white cat we have affectionately named “Kitty,” has returned and sleeps in a curled wet ball.
* * *
I start to get real comfortable in Wilmington, saying “hi” or giving a nod to everyone I meet, slowing down to examine the flow of the river I cross morning and night, the cozy neck-on-neck architecture of East Coast row houses and snug family neighborhoods, new trails in isolated places. No longer do I catapult from my step when the city bus gushes past.
On Monday, I am walking home after work. A tall man meets my gaze and swiftly crosses the Washington St. Bridge. I feel my chest start to tighten. I step unconsciously to the right. He scans me up and down ( the second time this has happened in these first few minutes of my walk): “Ma’am, I’m sorry to ask you this, but I’m caught up here from Dover and I have to get down to the hospital…” I’ve heard this story three times now, and I can tell where it’s going. I’m not in the mood to stop and chat. I want to get home.
“Sorry,” I say, “I don’t have any money to give you.”
“God!” he yells, harshly into my ear.
I keep on yet right behind me I can hear his audible murmur: “you sure have a nice butt though.” I feel annoyance seize my back and shoulders, anger sizzle up my spine and into my face. This is exactly how he wants me to react. I try instead to laugh, to block out the stupid comments, and just keep walking.
Still more surprises ahead: an attention-starved housecat meowing for a handouts; older ladies on the group-home porch, black and white together, rocking and smoking as usual – we exchange waves and greetings as usual; middle school boys huddled on the curbside irk each other to practice their one-liners on me as I pass; and finally, I am almost hit by a car – literally two inches away from being smashed into the ground by an aggressive and unapologetic driver – right in front of my house.
* * *
For every one of these unexpected surprises or unsavory exchanges, there is an equal or greater incidence of the amazing:
Grown women crying over new socks and underwear and deodorant.
Lunch with lively-eyed Jenny and ninety-seven-year-old Mr. Tasco, who chews each bite of food forty-four times.
Kindergartners squirming on bales of hay and pointing to wildflowers and Turkey Vultures and dried soy bean stalks they are seeing for the first time.
The discovery of a new garden.
Standing under a tree just as she showers her leaves and realizing beauty is possible wherever you are, because God is all and in all.
“Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear. You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by. Life will be brighter then noonday, and darkness will become like morning. You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid.” (Job 11:13-19)