I already know my response as I, head bent and focused on Toby’s trot trot trot along the sidewalk, keep the man in the corner of my eyes, passing him in the quintessential straight-walk-no-nonsense trajectory specific to Busy City Person – enshrouded in an impenetrable, soundproof shell.
And then Toby dead-stops, causing me to trip slightly and over in front of the man.
He chuckles a bit, matching Toby’s inquisitive gaze and following it to the pet food store a few feet away.
“He knows what he wants, huh?”
“That he does,” I smile, then scoop up Toby as politely as possible while conveying my no-time-to-chat-must–run internal dialogue.
No. NO. NO.
“Do you think you can take something beautiful with you while helping a veteran?”
Per usual, my steely “city” persona is about as thin and easily cracked as an eggshell. I acquiesce.
Clutched in his hand, stowed beneath his cracked, black leather jacket, are two conical, yarn-wrapped floral bouquets, not-so-freshly picked and browning around the edges – some stalks wilted in on one another.
“You’re welcome to take one. Anything you may like to donate will help.”
Now, it’s Toby who’s pulling in the opposite direction, while I stand rapt in attention – examining each, identifying flaws, and, ultimately, deciding on the closest.
“Alright. I’ll take this one.”
He releases it like a fledgling bird out into the world for the first time. I reach into my wallet and take out what I have and extend it to him, thank him, and turn, letting Toby pull me down the block.
A few streets later, Andy comes into view, and I present the bouquet. We talk about our days, sidestep sidewalk muck and the occasional condom or needle cap, and buzz ourselves into our building. I close the windows, shutting out the commotion; the shower clicks on as the stove heats up.
I sink into the quiet of the moment, watching the bouquet bob slightly in its tiny vase until the saturated yarn pulls it down. Paper-thin pink and white blooms droop over the rim and silently meld together into a fragile, translucent mask.
Our Seattle chapter has been an interesting one. There have been more stumbling blocks than smooth walkways, more choppy waters than calm ponds. And countless metaphors for describing how difficult certain times have been.
We’re planners, and we have plans. And we hope we can bind them together in such a way that they don’t wilt or fall in on themselves – that even if they blend together into something else unexpected, we’ll be able to find the beauty in it and celebrate regardless.
Seattle has served as a protracted back-to-basics course for me. I’ve re-learned to wake up, do my best, be less judgmental, not beat myself up, and be kind. The adages about age revealing certain life-truths are a dime a dozen, and they’re easily referenced in times of severe want. But as I’ve experienced here, age and time and perspective and experience can converge for what seems like a brutally intense length of time, but which is absurdly short in the permutations of the universe’s clock. And from within that temporal crucible, I’ve looked out and glimpsed a future that I believe can be brought to fruition. But to get there, I have to leave cynicism and pessimism with their beloved bedfellows, fear and negativity.
I have to actually try, fall flat, try and fail some more, and then stop trying so hard. I just have to keep moving forward, propelling myself with beauty, sincerity, and conviction – reintroducing myself to the world.
Later the same night, I imagine the man from the sidewalk somewhere else – standing near a busy, loud corner or riding on a crowded bus with dim overhead lighting.
But then I consider him walking out onto his patio – ivy dripping down from an overhead pergola; a spool of yarn atop a potting table collecting dew – his windows open to let in the laughter rising up from the mass of humanity an arm’s length away.
And I smile.