The look on his face was anger in a moment, simple, raw, and pure. He had every right to feel it, and I asked him if he was okay as the world went on around us.
The time we shared had stopped with a bang, and in the blink of an eye I was jolted like a lover, bruised like a pear, and mad as a hatter. Our cars both bent beneath the other, twisted shells of plastic and fiberglass, no sound but the echoes of it, the sun still shining, and my boys in the backseat swearing they were fine. I pulled to the curb and I asked them again.
My body is tired, weak, sore, and frail from months of attention. It has been poked, drained, probed, and biopsied, hung up wet and left to dry. It absorbed the contact like a careless wine glass absorbs the floor—a slow reaching grasp for memories of forgotten muscle and the instant shatter of nerves on skin and back again, a ricochet of numbness that lost itself somewhere between my head and shrinking shadow. I got out of the car, and I said that I was sorry.
They are dying in every street of every town—young men disappearing right in front of us. They are shot unarmed for being black, beaten and beheaded for spreading the news, tortured by strangers, zealots, loners, and loved ones for what they are or what they believe. They are dying for the just cause of just being.
Ignorance runs rampant with hate and power, and every ism is killing someone.
We have the TV on for loops of opinion, words, and reasons quick to anger. We shield the children from the stories but speak often of the morals. There are lessons for the taking and so many more that we should all be giving. It starts where we are standing.
There are demons in the water and pennies in the wishing well. We are broke but far from broken, and we are so very, very thirsty.
“I see him,” he said, and I followed his gaze through the metal bars standing stoic between a herd of parents and their too old offspring grazing in the schoolyard.
The him was my oldest son, pointed out by his brother. He was sitting at a table surrounded by gaggles of cliques in their awkward infancy—bands of kids acquainted over two mornings of social interaction one week prior to entering the great unknown of middle school together—but he was alone, chewing his food, and looking through the nowhere.
He didn’t know anyone. Again. Another new school in another new district, and once more he was on his own. His bites were slow and distant.
“I don’t mind being by myself,” he said. “I like to think about stuff.”
“I’m not going to know anyone either,” said his brother. His new school would start soon, too, and while the idea stirred within me the appropriate amount of anxiety I knew that he would be fine. He finds friends in everyone, instantly and forever. He leaves no room for doubt, and when I look at him I never feel lonely.
“I was so angry,” said the man I had just met atop a piece of freshly paved asphalt. “My lunch break was nearly over and I hadn’t eaten anything all day. I had to pick my kids up at daycare, and . . .”
“I saw that,” I said, cutting him off for the second time. “I could see your anger and all I could do was apologize.”
“It’s funny. I’m smiling now,” he said. “Those things don’t matter. I love my car, but it doesn’t matter. We spend so much time worrying about stuff that just doesn’t matter.”
“It was a crash with perspective. I feel the same way. My car is messed up. Your car is damaged. Another foot and it could have been my door that was smashed and not my radiator. It could have been you and not your bumper. It could have been my sons. Sometimes we let the little things feel way too big.”
And then we talked some more. We were both in our forties, neither ever having been in an accident, and both watching our only mode of transportation being strapped across the respective beds of tow trucks and the policies we never thought about. We shook hands. We laughed. We said goodbye like we had met in a different place under different circumstances, and there was something right with that.
I watched men from the nearby construction site cover the remains of my day with buckets of dirt—an embrace of earth around the fluids left flowing with downward speed and mocking stain, and I thanked them as the beach built up around me. I had a sudden urge to step my toes deeply in it.
The world is big and full of terrible things, but we can change the currents, ride the waves or break against them. The waters are rough and unforgiving, but there is splendor in our slipstream and hopes hung high on the horizon. The sand is warm and fairly understanding.