Walking through a neighborhood not far from our own, I observe a woman grab the forearm of her gangly teenage son in vicious impatience. She does this only to yank him closer to herself so that she may spew several ugly, vitriolic phrases in his face about his worthlessness as a human being.
From the looks of the home’s side yard, it appears that the entire family of four has been out working, raking the side-yard dirt to free it from last year’s debris. A new chicken-wire fence is in place. Last fall’s leaves, twigs, sticks and branches, as well as a few scraggily green vines, rest in a heap in the corner of the area which is now cleared dirt.
The only friendly motion in the scene I am witnessing comes from the wriggling swaying tail of a puppy’s unstoppable joy at the undeniable beauty of this early spring day. I suspect the raking has something to do with making way for this family’s new canine friend. I wish that this puppy’s happiness could be magnified and distributed among all five souls present.
Today, I do not hold back. Turning my body halfway around to address the woman, while putting on my very best positive voice, I almost shout, “Wow, are you lucky to have such great help in the yard! Beautiful day to be outside. My own son is all grown up. Hardly see him. Busy. They grow up so fast.”
The woman stares back at me in shocked amazement (maybe at my cheery impudence), loosening her grip on her older male child’s forearm. Her mouth gapes in awe.
Mission accomplished. Further, immediate verbal abuse truncated. But, I can see that the boy’s personal Light is still crumpled up and twisted around his lank physical frame, leaving him vulnerable and emotionally unprotected.
Turning to continue on my walk, I say a silent prayer for this child, “Dear God, please protect this holy child, restore his Light and help him remember who he is—Yours.”
Moving into the city, where we currently reside, my husband and I were initially amazed by the generosity and open kindness of the local people. Whether we needed directions or help finding a phone number, complete strangers were more than willing to assist us, proving to be extremely patient and generous with their time. While walking our dogs, strangers have not been afraid to slow or stop their vehicles to shower compliments on our canine companions—for good behavior, glossy coats or general demeanor. And, among our closest neighbors, we were and are often treated to shared produce, jams, jellies and helpful local information.
Thus, when I first started my regular and extra-long walks in order to spend the afternoon writing in some of our community’s best coffeehouses, I was not overly surprised by the occasional vehicle that would pause, with the driver turning to address me directly and ask politely, “Do you need a ride?”
As a writer, I always decline these polite offers because I do not know these individuals and my long walks are designed to balance out the time I spend seated. Still, when this first started happening, I would think to myself, “Wow, the people here are so considerate.”
Then, one hot afternoon in mid-July or mid-August, after we had lived here for a few years, I am walking through a neighborhood between our own and the one where that day’s coffeehouse is situated. Across the street from me, two or three small groups of men are sitting outside of a not-so-large manufacturing complex, taking their mid-afternoon breaks in the outdoor heat. The temperatures inside of the buildings must be sweltering.
Suddenly, someone from among these men wolf whistles. Loudly. The whistle is jarring enough that I stop thinking about the book issues I have been mulling over in my mind and shift my focus back to the present moment and into the context of my body. Glancing about, I look for, perhaps, a new car, a custom truck or another situation or person who might warrant such vocal attention. There is nothing and no one else around.
Then, gazing down at my summer garb, I notice the jumper I am wearing. The linen or light cotton jumper is a practical, fashion nod to the day’s incredibly high heat index. In that moment, I also realize that with my being across the street, the man who has whistled probably cannot see my face and most certainly does not realize that I—in terms of age—could have easily be his mother.
“Hmmm. Odd,” I think to myself. My mind clicks and whirs. That wolf whistle grants me something of a non-spiritual epiphany regarding the probable nature of those previously “kind” offers for “a ride” which may have been code for something else entirely different.
Our postal carrier likes to refer to our small section of his route as “The Ritz.” In order to walk to the many coffeehouses I frequent to complete my book projects, I often pass through three, four or five distinct micro-neighborhoods, each with its own flavor, challenges and/or expectations. Interestingly enough, the offers for “rides” which I have received do not come in the evenings, as might be expected, but usually during the early afternoon—somewhere between one and four. So, it is not as though I am inviting this potentially questionable contact into my life by walking at “inappropriate” hours of the day.
After the wolf-whistle event, I return home to sort through my clothing, donating any potentially “questionable” skirts, jumpers and dresses to a local charitable organization for resale. I do not want to experience further future miscommunications due to wardrobe content. A tall stack of stylish, fun clothing in neutral to light colors is traded in for a stack of somber-colored capris, slacks and practical short—all in an effort to prevent confusion.
I wonder about clothing signals specific to this region. Still, even after the change in wardrobe, a few vehicles do pause, on occasion, stopping long enough to ask me whether or not I need “a ride.”
Over the years I have lived here, I have looked in the faces of men ages twenty-five to seventy-five, searching to fill the void of loneliness inside of themselves with the specter of love which commercialized, sexually intimate touch attempts to provide. Yet, Grace is the only thing capable of filling that chasm of emptiness which forms when we experience long periods of unwanted soul solitude. And, so, for now—I continue to pray that the hearts of these passersby become filled with God’s unremitting Light.
Walking the dogs through the neighborhood, I appreciate the street’s quiet and fresh air. The dogs and I meet a rare vehicle or two. There is only moderate foot traffic and a few bicycles here and there. Most everyone waves or nods a hello.
What causes the most noise in our neighborhood is what happens domestically in and around the edges of houses. This particular neighborhood suffers terribly from the noise, static and discordant sounds of a multitude of voices in inefficient and angry communication with one another. There are words of harshness, betrayal and abuse.
When we first moved into this region, we had come from the American Southwest where the code of ethics among certain local First-Nation peoples required that extra attention be paid to the issue of speech because, it is believed, a person has the power to talk things into being.
There is also one First-Nation group that follows a no-gossip policy because it is considered unethical to talk about anything which one has not witnessed directly; and, if one has witnessed something, that “something” should not be talked about unless the witness is asked to report about it directly.
Thus, unbeknownst to us at the time, we had spent a full five years—de facto—living in a community which was like an exclusive monastic retreat . This unique culture around speech invited us to reassess our own habituated and inefficient patterns of communication. Thus, on some days in our new location, it seems as though we are growing quieter while the neighborhood around us grows louder.
One day among my many walks stands out above all others, while reveling in the beauty of the weather, breathing deeply and walking with my dogs, I witness two young children come running out of a house into the middle of a quiet street crossing.
There is a lot of shouting coming from the front door that has swung open as a result of the children’s departure. Fear and terror are in the eyes of the older boy. The younger boy has opted out emotionally, working to file this event away somewhere in his clay-like psyche rather than deal with it. How can he? The older boy, perhaps six years of age, approaches me. Fear having taken his words away.
“Do you need some help?” I ask him, not really knowing what else to say or do.
He nods at me, still mute with fear.
“Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”
I feel that calm stillness that accompanies me when I am in alignment. So, I decide to proceed to the house with the dogs beside me.
Stepping onto the porch with both dogs, I witness a huge man through the open door. He is perhaps two-hundred and eighty pounds, pinned on the floor of the living room with another huge man and a leaner woman both on top of the downed man, pummeling the downed man with closed fists and shouting about how the downed man “needs to get his sh*t” out of the house. An issue regarding rent or living circumstances might be involved. (This is surmised conjecture.)
“Do you folks need some help?” I ask from the open doorway, being careful not to step over the threshold.
For a moment the physical assault stops. The pummeling stops long enough for the man under attack to be able to right himself and run to the back of the house with the other two individuals in close pursuit while the verbal assault continues. At this point, I leave the porch to reenter the street where the older boy is waiting.
“I am sorry that I cannot do more than that,” I tell him. He nods in silence.
The large man under siege is now out of the house and in the process of leaving in his car. The emotion around the incident hangs in the air.
I begin the walk away from the house with my dogs, leaving the violent, confusing, irrational, raw emotion that permeates those people, their circumstances, the house and its vicinity. Calmness returns to me again.
People. Things. Things. People. “People and their sh*t,” as they say. When will we learn to bring our calm, adult Selves to the table?
Perhaps it is unethical for me to report this to you. I have considered that. You did not ask me about my walk on that day or the status of things in parts of my extended neighborhood.
I tell you about this experience because there were children involved—there are children involved.
We, as human beings, still need a lot of help with basic communication skills, learning how to read and understand our emotions, as well as how to address uncomfortable circumstances and unethical behaviors with diplomacy. We need help with ethics and peace, because there are always children involved-watching and learning.