Sherod and I were looking forward to a nice evening with our girl last night. A pattern is emerging with her: dinner somewhere most Wednesdays, time for swimming and hanging out a couple of times during the weekend. That’s what was in store until I got a call from the folks at BARC. Maria had had a very bad day at her day camp and was now being “transported back”. They would have to “implement procedures” as soon as she arrived. I know what that means, of course. A couple of strong people would help her off the van, and would use the techniques that have been developed to move a person from point A to point B with as little force as necessary, no matter how out of control that person might be. They’d take her to a completely empty room and close the door behind her. She would be in isolation time out until she had regained control and maintained it for a prescribed amount of time. M, who made the call to me, asked that we not take Maria out last night. Always, always, the mixture of relief, sadness, hope and fear.
The change in our plans gave me time to go walk. After very heavy rains yesterday, my usual route would have large, deep puddles all along the way so I took another path. I walked up to Davie Blvd and headed west. Davie is a busy east-west street. It was a little before 8 and already, dusk was turning to darkness quickly. At first I was irritated by all the noise and commotion of walking against a lot of oncoming car traffic. Then I realized this was yet another experience of a more pedestrian life.
As I walked by a gas station, already lit up by harsh lights , I wished I had a camera with me. A short, wiry man, with slightly bowed legs, wearing cowboy boots, faded blue jeans, long-sleeved plaid shirt and baseball cap, stood with his back to me, putting gas in his beat up pickup. A couple of blocks later, I was almost at a bus stop when a bus, the inside lit up, stopped. I stopped too and looked in the bus. It was Friday evening, almost night, and so many of the riders, of all sizes and colors, had one thing in common. They all looked exhausted, many of them slumped against the window, a few against each other. Another caricature and icon. I ended up going past about four bus stops and noticed something about them. There are covered areas now, but covered just enough for people to stand under. Most have no benches. Those that do, have handles across the middle to make sure no one can sleep on one of those benches overnight. There are all sorts of logical reasons for discouraging this practice. But how unkind.
I turned south on 35th Avenue, by the local Publix. A man was walking ahead of me, wearing threadbare shorts and a t-shirt and what I have always called shower slippers, carrying a bag of groceries. When I take my regular path, I run into lots of walkers and runners, all intent, all pretty energetic, all moving quickly. Not this person. The way he walked bespoke weariness. In Spanish, I asked for permission to go past him and picked up my pace. Two blocks later I was back in the jasmine scented silence and dark velvet of my more normal route.
As familiar as that felt, I found myself wanting to go back and get on the bus I walked by. I would have wanted to sit with some of those exhausted-looking people long enough to tell them I could see them and their exhaustion. I wished I’d had the courage to go up to the man filling the gas tank of his truck to ask about his week, about the family he’s probably left behind in a Central American country. I wanted all of them to know they are not alone, they are not invisible, their story matters. I just wanted to be with them. I spent a very big part of my week on administrative stuff—I met the deadline to submit the big grant application I’ve been preparing. I have launched a staff member and me on a major developmental project that has a lot riding on it. I’m engaged in all those institutionally necessary responsibilities that define the church. I can be energetic and competent . I’ll even finish my sermon today and whirl through my Sunday routine tomorrow. But last night it felt like the sidewalk along Davie Blvd should be my church.