Ruby-throated hummingbird. Black bear. Angry man. Naked girl. This week’s random moments. Ever stop and think on what you see, and hear, and take in, and what that all means in review? Well, here I go.
Sunday morning. Below average temperature, and overcast, but regardless, we gathered our tea mugs, and various reading material and headed out to our favorite morning spot, the front porch. When the sun is shining it comes straight at us, filtered slightly by the newly leafed-out maple, the apple blossoms and branches of lilacs, the hanging planters, all warming our winter souls back. On this morning we donned jackets and even wool hats, but there was the promise of a break in the clouds, and we were positioned to get even a second of those rays. She was concentrating on the crossword puzzle while I was reading the new-to-the-area restaurant reviews, weekly horoscopes, concert line-ups, all the stuff that requires little from me. We heard that iconic hum at the same time, and without moving anything except our eyes we glanced simultaneously to the fuchsia swaying from the porch rafter. There, making the rounds from pink and white blossom to pink and white blossom was the tiniest of ruby-throated hummingbirds, suspended in air, wings flapping at an unseeable speed, with little care that we were there. My sweetheart and I sat in pure joy that we were present for the very first visit of the season. It is no coincidence that these hanging plants were chosen by our children as Mother’s Day gifts, not at all, for bringing hummingbirds to our home is a delight we always treasure as much as any treasure. Once our winged visitor had all the nectar to be found, off it went, back to the trees, back to its magical world, and we were left with the broadest smiles and a whole day spent in happiness.
I have had a series of Doctor visits of late, sorting out this and that, and the latest one took me to my primary physician a few towns over. Afterwards I took a long-cut home along a favorite winding road that provides a stunning view of the mountains. Vermont’s highest peak looms majestically ahead and there are a few points where you can’t help but lift your eyes to its iconic ridge. I haven’t driven along this route in years, but everything looks just the same. Fields are newly planted, cows out to pasture, old barns still standing, with only a spotting of new houses. My mind returns to those years I rode my bike along this road, heart pounding climbs and soaring descents. The years when we were in the thick of raising those three, sometimes four, and it was all about soccer schedules and violin practice and difficult decisions. Now, it’s only us that concern our day to day, although all our lives are forever woven. This route leads to a mountain gap road and I find myself headed up, past the ski area and the expanding village at the base of the lifts, acres of pine in every direction, and the road getting more narrow and more windy, and that’s right when I come upon the black bear. I will call him a her, really who knows, but she was as startled as me, and we both were frozen for a split second. I slowed almost to a stop, keeping a close eye on my rearview mirror. She turned and scooted to the edge of the road, spun around and sat. Black bears are numerous in Vermont but after 3+ decades this is only the third bear I have seen. I must be a noisy hiker, or walker, or runner or whatever, for they vanish long before I see them. However, this young lady gave me her full attention. I thought about grabbing my phone to snap a quick pic but opted to just give my full attention back. She scrambled up the bank, but turned back to give me a last look before running into the forest. As I drove up and over the mountain pass I felt filled with gratitude for her, for her presence, for her boldness to face what comes her way as strange and foreign as I must have been to her.
Like many people this week my mind has returned to the case that captivated headlines decades ago, and was emblazoned by the name of the Central Park Five, (although I think Korey Wise got it right when it said it should be “four plus one.”) I was talking about Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries, “When They See Us” with a colleague as I drove her home. When I pulled into her driveway I shut the car off to keep chatting. We usually get heated about issues, but this case embroiled with racism, classism, ageism, everything except fact or reason, is so heartbreaking, and sadly now so predictable. As educators we are drawn to make meaning with our students, and as the school year comes to an end we are pulling every string we can to show them these patterns. My ninth graders just finished To Kill A Mockingbird, where we wrestled over the injustice shown to innocent Tom, and as we are in the midst of Twelve Angry Men we watch with a wary eye as the bigot and sadist and ignorant decide the fate of another. How can I not also talk to them about Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise? Or “Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Abner Louima, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Botham Jean… name after name can be switched in and out as victims of this unfair game of injustice, prejudice and institutionalized and unpenalized racism”(Blake). I don’t know how to end injustice but I hope our discussion gets them thinking about that as a possibility someday. My friend is following her cat into the garage so we wrap up our conversation, ending, as if often does, on privilege, to our own educated, white, middle-class upbringing, to all the institutional privilege that we are desperate to turn around for our marginalized students. This all sounds like I am so sure of myself and perhaps even pompous, discussing the fates of those whose lives I can only imagine. As an out lesbian I do have encounters with less than tolerance, but I can pass right into any five star establishment and shimmy right up to the bar and order a french pear martini without anyone giving me a glance, only a right this way madam. Not true for my wife, who is asked if she’s looking for the men’s room or if she’s in the wrong somehow. I’ve observed as she’s followed around the department store, perhaps because she’s in a leather jacket or her hair short and holds a tight jaw. Who the hell knows, but that’s nothing like having to teach your children to go unnoticed, to lower their eyes, to never expect fairness. As I drove away my head was swimming with all of this, turning from one short suburban street to the next in this maze of development, and up ahead I noticed an elderly man crossing in front of me. I slow quickly, but he lingered in the road with his eyes scrunched until I was just about even with him, as if he was waiting to verify what he already thought, staring me down he yelled, you stupid broad. I rolled past stunned, slightly. But then I was reminded of misogyny, fear, hatred and how easily a person loses the ability to stand in another’s shoes.
One component to stay sane and balanced is that I have an amazing indoor pool to swim in during the cold months. It’s pretty essential to me being able to handle just about anything. A few days a week I enter the dressing room with the crappy radio music blaring and an assortment of bodies in states of undress. This afternoon was no different. A kid’s swim class must have just ended because there was a whole beehive of naked girls darting all around. Towels everywhere. Giggles outdoing the music. A scene that brings me back to my own childhood. They will make their parents wait ad infinitum while they mess around with their gal pals. They are in that between stage where they are old enough to be on their own but still not self-conscience about their own nakedness. As I was about to head out of the locker room and into the pool area I noticed one girl on the other side of the room looking distraught, struggling to get her arm out of her suit. I asked if she needed help. She responded with a direct and instant yes, which actually took me aback. So many children, and for good reason, are taught to not talk to strangers, to not interact in any way with adults, especially adults. They practice monthly lockdowns, which now include simulations of an active shooter in the building, and they know without a shadow of doubt that their life is not as valuable as their neighbor’s right to collect military style assault weapons despite his record of abuse or mental illness. Well, if her neighbor is a white male. But here, in this locker room, was a blue eyed little girl, who at maybe seven or eight was stuck in her bathing suit and desperate even to ask for help. I pulled the top over her head, she wiggled out of her bottoms, and we put both in the machine that spins the moisture right out. She stood in all her unadulterated innocence, those crystal blue eyes, peering up without shame, without worry, with only this task to occupy her mind. I handed her the suit, as well as her goggles and towel she had skipped away from, and we smiled our goodbye, each perhaps a bit more hopeful for the future, as she joined the rest of the naked girls who were quite possibly the happiest people on the planet. I dove into the pool swimming with all of their cheer.
I started by saying I would try to make sense of it all. But I am not sure it needs to be said. Clearly, it’s been a good week for me. There is even promise for tomorrow.