Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Same Diesel that Poisons the Heron will Poison Me

The first time I saw the heron I was riding along Sugar Creek on one of my very first commutes, years ago, when I used to still slow down to cross the little footbridges that traverse the creek.  In fact,  when I saw the heron on that long ago morning that’s exactly what I was doing, slowing down , making the sharp turn, and riding shakily over the creek hoping I didn’t go into the water and you know, die.  I must have startled the heron who was probably hiding out under the bridge.  Then so suddenly, like a flash of magic, the heron flew up, not more than two feet from where I was riding, right out from under the bridge.  I gasped, nearly fell over, nearly fainted with how startled I was by that moment.  It’s a moment I’ve never forgotten because of how stunning that blue/gray heron was.  If you’ve never seen one up close, they are these spectacular birds that look rather like nothing when they are walking across the creek with their wings tucked.  Their bodies don’t seem very much larger than that of a duck, they just have longer legs.  But then they spread their wings and you notice all they didn’t seem to be at first.  What startled me is how he seemed to transform before my  eyes into this grand and graceful being from next to nothing, once he spread his wings.

I’ve watched the heron on Sugar Creek for years.  I stop and take pictures a lot of the time. On really cold days I watch him hunkered down in the creek trying to make his body as small as possible, like he’s holding in heat.  I don’t know how to say this,  because even though I never really expect to see the heron (he’s quite elusive), when I do I feel a most profound sense of home.  That quiet bird fills me with joy and with peace.  The peace is in the stillness and the joy is in the flight, that sudden burst of movement which reminds me of quick and unexpected laughter.

The last time I saw the heron was on Tuesday evening, which was also the first day I smelled the toxic stench of what I now know was diesel.  I first thought the stench was on the air, something…anything…but not coming from the creek because the idea that anything so ridiculously poisonous would go into the creek is insane.  I was riding up to one of those footbridges when I saw him hunkered down in the creek, right next to the bridge.    He seemed to shiver slightly and was maybe as small as I’ve ever seen him.   My throat clenched and I couldn’t tell if it came from the stench or the smallness of that bird, just then.

Since then I’ve wondered what happened to the heron.  I haven’t seen any reports that he/she/they were found dead or alive.  In the days since the spill I’m a little haunted by that last memory of him hunkered down in the creek.  I keep wondering what’s wrong in a world where we don’t even blink at what goes into our creeks, streams, oceans, earth, wildlife…our own bodies.

The heron moved me because for all these years I’ve commuted and for the last two years when I’ve almost exclusively commuted, the heron and I have shared the same small patch of earth.  I recognize that it is his earth as well as mine.  On freezing mornings we’re both cold and on hot ones we both long for the same shade, the same breeze.  I don’t separate my fate from the fate of the heron.  The same diesel that poisons him will poison me.

On Wednesday morning I rode my bike over to Park Road Shopping Center to meet my brother and his family who’d come into town for lunch.  I took the greenway because it’s how I always get to that part of town, but the smell was so awful that I could hardly stomach it.  There was something worse than the stench though, and that was the awful silence of nothing.  I’ve never seen it so empty as it was that morning.  It’s generally teeming with life.  It was light out so I could see the sludge on top of the creek.  At its thickest it looked like brown paint.  The people who’d come down to walk held their noses (once again, diesel is poison to all of us, not just to the heron, ducks and fish) and were horrified and surprised.  I am constantly reminded on my bike that we’ve only got this one planet, this one earth…what happens to the planet because of carelessness and greed happens to the ducks…happens to the heron…happens to the humans…happens to us all.

I don’t have any answers, I just have the lesson I keep having to learn

A few years ago it came to my attention that one of our former students who had moved up to a higher grade was, with her really young sister, in quite a crisis situation. Her mother was dying. It was upsetting. I found out that the children were spending most of their time at the hospital, eating out of vending machines and were much of the time, due to familial grief, an afterthought.At the time I decided that something needed to be done. I had a whole house with just two people living in it, so I offered childcare services to the dad, who quite honestly had no idea what to do with his two girls (they were from another country/culture, where most/all of the parenting responsibilities fell on his wife, and it was his job to just supply a living).

I should say I didn’t want to do it. I should say that taking in someone with such a different background, where they were a different race, whose ideas about life were so different from my own, was really difficult. I should say that it was very far from a perfect situation—I got sick as soon as I took these girls in, I was thrown back into early motherhood mode at the very time I was in late teen motherhood mode with quite a bit of time and freedom on my hands. Suddenly I had to dig for “pacies,” change diapers, help with homework, talk to teachers. I should say that much of the extra burden made me very uncomfortable. Sitting in a room by myself with a dying woman and trying to get her to eat…a woman I didn’t know very well, who came from a different place than me, who had a disease nobody seemed to be able to figure out—it was all just stupid hard.

I still find pacifiers in the unused corners of my house, and tiny socks…and last week when I was cleaning out my closet, another case of diapers. The oldest daughter is still here at school. She greets me daily and I remember that time when I read she and her little sister to sleep for a few weeks. The time when I tucked them into my bed and took the couch so they’d have a place to sleep that was just their own. It was difficult to take them in and also to let them go back into their world that was different than mine. And when I look at it just this way, it feels like I did both a superhuman and also really questionable thing.  In the time since I’ve said very little of it outside of my circle because it’s not a story you tell. It wasn’t easy and there is no perfect ending to it. Just two girls now asked to go on without their mom, which if you’ve lost your mom, you know is hard. Just a dad who does his best, but is still somewhat lost when it comes to raising two girls by himself.  

So none of it worked out with a storybook ending, and none of it was easy, and there are still days I wonder if I did it right. But I never wonder if I should have offered…or ever if I should have done it.

Here’s why. I offered this “help,” this care all by myself. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it before I asked the dad if he needed help. But when I offered, I found I wasn’t alone. When I offered, I found unlimited resources. When I offered, first one friend stood up with me and said, “I’ll go with you,” and then my whole school did the same thing. We did this thing with various political and religious beliefs and we did it without question. We supported two girls for a time when they desperately needed just a comfortable place to sleep, just a meal with people who cared. We did it when it was hard, and we did it when it made us all uncomfortable. We did it in spite of being flawed, in spite of not always having a ready and “correct” answer about what should come next. We cried lots of tears during and we held each other up and we looked at each other doubtfully…but we saw them through, and they are still standing. I remember emailing my pastor the night before my little friend’s mom died and asking what the world even meant if you could be a little kid and your mom could just die. And he answered very kindly that he didn’t know.

At the time it was difficult to know what the take away was from such a situation. Is there a lesson? Hell if I know. The lesson I learned is that I wasn’t alone in the world…it’s the lesson I keep learning…that I am loved. Isn’t that self-centered? I learned that I am loved. People loved me enough to stand with me when I made my life a very difficult and uncomfortable place. People loved those girls enough to stand with them when they were losing their mom. The lesson was that everyone should feel loved like that…exactly like that. When you are not alone in the world, when you are loved, you are capable of really difficult, amazing, and tremendous things.

The other lesson was…sometimes things are hard. They are just crazy, fucking hard. When that happens, it’s so good to stand up anyway, and go anyway. It reminds me of two different quotes, one by MLK, “The time is always right to do what is right,” and another that I think belongs to the Mormons but was given to me by a very good friend when I was going through a terrible time years ago. It was simple, but I’ve come to live my life by it. In my hardest times I say it to myself, “An easy life and a good life are not the same thing.”

Lately everyone has an opinion about what should happen with refugees, with guns, with police shootings, with illegal aliens, and it seems to me that perhaps we’re totally in the wrong ballpark here, with the questions we’re asking—let’s not even get into the “correct” answers everyone has readily available. What would Jesus, do, what’s the Christian response to be, what’s politically best. I don’t have a ready or correct answer for any of those questions. The only answer I have is the one that says in the end, everyone should feel loved, exactly like that…for our limited time on earth. It’s the fact that we don’t that’s the problem in the first place

Happy Diwali…wait, what?

  For many years now, twelve to be exact, I have showed up to this wonderful, fulfilling and terribly paying job where I am an assistant at Park Road Montessori School.  Don’t let me tell you all the reasons I do not want to be a “teacher” there…or anywhere in the public school system.  But I show up at this terrific job, where I generally start my day with putting away dishes and unstacking kitchen chairs, where I give many cursive lessons to first graders and support children doing any number of things and help them work shit out with each other when they need help doing that.  Most days I love what I do and some days it feels like a celebration.  Like on Fridays when I start my day in the Park on a bike ride with all different kinds of kids…where I’m so happy they showed up (last week one boy woke up his mom and let her know he needed to ride his bike to school and that is amazing and miraculous to me).  On Fridays I support the children in our classroom who prepare lunch and we all probably eat too much.  Once a year we celebrate Thanksgiving, which we prepare, right down to churning our own butter.  Once a year we take a look at Chanukah, and we make latkes and apple sauce and we play dreidel.  And once a year, just this week in fact, we participate in the beautiful celebration of Diwali.  

Diwali is a holiday that is celebrated by folks all over South Eastern Asia.  Before I came to work at Park Road Montessori I had no idea what the heck it was.  It was a completely foreign concept to me.  There’s an Indian lady (Ms. Priti) who is a teacher at our school who puts her heart, soul and time into sharing this cultural (and yes, based in a different religion than my own) experience with our school.  She has beautiful clothing gifted by ladies and children in her own community, and let’s us  borrow or keep them.  She gets lots of flowers to make “rangoli” outside each classroom that wishes to participate, and she comes to greet each classroom with her own classroom of pre-k and kindergarten children who give us the holiday greeting and occasionally (upon request, if they are welcome) sing us a song.  Occasionally I find the emails leading up to this spectacular celebration a little tiring.  But I always take something else away from participating in this lovely expression of a culture different from my own.  I feel like I am given a gift,  I am given a gift of beautiful clothing, of grace and courtesy, of welcoming others. My daughter felt the same way when she attended Park Road.  She loved getting her bindi and watching me be dressed so fancy (I’m not a fancy dresser in general).  She loved how colorful the outfits were–she loves color.  

To me its very much like on St Patrick’s Day when Kelly used to show up with her violin and sit in the hallway before school and play Irish music for all of us, and how Ms. Maggie would show classrooms how to write with fancy, Irish lettering while she told us her own family’s history, or how Ann has always made enough Latkes to feed not just our classroom, but the entire school’s supply of teachers and staff, and also on St. Nicholas Day puts treats in children’s shoes even though that is “not her holiday.”   We do these things, we celebrate our differences, because we love them. We celebrate our differences because without them the world would be such a dry and boring place.  We celebrate our differences so that our children will learn to celebrate their own…and to accept and love the differences of others.  

That was a lot to say.   I wrote it because I wish for differences among people to be celebrated.  For people to be loved for who they are even when they might come from a different place and celebrate different things and look very different than me.

The school where I work is a place where people come, they work, and they retire–there’s not a lot of turn-over.  It is that way because of love and acceptance.  It is that way because we work hard, through not always easy situations, at work that’s important and good.  It is that way because of the work of our hands, our minds and our unique gifts that we each bring to the table–one of mine is showing people how to ride bikes and have a good time.

Thank you Ms. Priti for sharing Diwali, the festival of light, with all of us.  Thank you for your gift of beautiful clothing, colorful flowers, lights and tremendous grace.  Which we could all use.

Today in the History of David

I have had to talk a lot about bicycle accidents this year, both my own and other people’s–a lot more than I would like.  I’ve written blogs, shared posts, participated in a blessing for cyclists and healed–over time–from my own accident.  I’ve healed.  I healed because there were people who needed me to be well, like my daughter.  I also found that in the grand scheme of things, I healed fairly quickly because I wasn’t hurt that badly.  Now woah…I was hurt badly right?  I was hurt so badly that even standing and walking was impossible or excruciating for several weeks, biking was out of the question, and I have a scar that I can either have fixed with plastic surgery or get used to as just part of my leg now.  I have an ugly knot on my left knee, the result I think, of flesh healing over asphalt and scar tissue mixed in for good measure.  It still leaks on occasion

When I say I wasn’t hurt “that badly,” what I mean is I can now walk without discomfort.  I am back on my bike and enjoying my rides to school as many of you have seen.  I am once again able to “herd cats” through Freedom Park on Fridays (our weekly children’s ride to school).

When I say I was not hurt that badly, what I’m saying is that 1) I’m not dead like Al Gorman (killed on Parkwood and Hawthorne last month) and 2) I am no longer in pain like David Spranger.

David has been weighing heavy on my mind and heart these past few weeks even though I don’t know him very well.  The main reason I knew him last year was because in the National Bike Challenge, he rode so many miles nobody could keep up with him.  He rode so many miles we were all in awe.  We never met him then (the folks I knew who rode bikes).  He was this mysterious gentleman who commuted to work and back.  He didn’t come on social rides and he didn’t make much noise.  He just WAS.  You know, the way some folks just ARE?  Without speaking of it or bragging?  Maybe without even having that many people know their names.  But we all knew the name of David Spranger last year when we saw how many miles he rode, just as part of his everyday life.

David was hit by a car in March of this year, and hasn’t yet returned to riding his bike.  He did a 14 mile round trip commute to work daily before that, not just for last year but for many years.  It was the main way he chose to get around Charlotte.  He was a safe cyclist, followed all traffic laws, used lights, wore reflective clothing and understood how to bicycle in traffic.

Someone hit him and left him in the street in March.  People always ask if I was left in the street–I wasn’t, the man who hit me…whatever he was doing before the accident…stopped and gave the police his information.  But as a cyclist I understand that this is the exception and not the general rule.  David understands that as well.  A driver hit him and left him for dead.  He was in the hospital for a while and then he was home.  He’s not yet able to ride a bike, even though he was hit in March.  For a comparison, I was able to ride in late August, and I was hit in late July.  The basic problem for David?  Things are still broken,  everything hurts.  

That is what I mean by I was not badly injured.

David has a court date tomorrow.  He has a court date to talk about his case, where he was hit by a man who was underinsured, while riding to work on an early spring morning while wearing bright clothing, while following all traffic laws, while having bright lights on his bike and making sure he was seen.  In other words, doing all the things I’ve been urged to do since my own accident (my list of advice included brighter lights, reflective gear and cycling safety classes).  And while I understand that the intent of this advice, of these gifts, are to make sure that I am as safe as possible;   I was already doing those things.  Now I have a brighter light, wear brighter gear, and as I was doing before make sure I am following traffic laws..but in the end I have to just hope that by doing these things I attract the notice and courtesy of a whole lot of distracted and impatient drivers.  I saw one just this evening who accelerated to a ridiculous speed on Hawthorne to try and make the yellow light (he didn’t).  That driving puts us all in danger.  That driver (or others like him)  and the road culture he’s created is the reason David is going to a court date tomorrow…is the reason David (a tremendous cyclist and human, a fully alive force) is still not cycling, almost nine months after his accident.

I felt like I somehow needed to mark this day.  Tomorrow.  Not very many people know about this day in the history of David.  This day when David goes to court to just ask for what should rightfully belong to all of us, which is justice.