Friday, February 15, 2013
Posts From the Road - My Brothers Keeper
An elderly man sits in front of the television set, the house is warm, but empty this day. There are plenty of homemade meals, frozen and canned, things his daughter made for him, on hand, but this year there are no Christmas decorations to put away. Having lost his wife just a couple of years ago, he didn't wish to bring out the boxes of those particular memories.
Outside the wind blows, some tattered leaves still clinging to barren limbs as fiercely as flags. Inside, the phone rings, it's the neighbors, a couple of "kids" in their 60's he said, calling to check up on him as they'd not see him leave the house for a walk in a couple of days. Beyond the simple expression of holiday caring, they were concerned. He was fine.
He was glad they noticed.
His son is in the hospital for round two of chemo. His granddaughter is picking him up up to go see him as he returns from the hospital.. His son doesn't want too much in the way of family hovering around such places, all of the family spending too much time there, these last few years, but for those visits to home, back where it is familiar, he will lower the gates.
My next door neighbor is a police officer. I have his phone number, he has mine. If anything looks "off" at either of our homes, we would check. If Barkley is barking at length for no reason, if a door or window that's normally closed is open, little things. That's not being intrusive, that's being smart.
I go to one of the flight tracker websites, and smile at the little blip of an airplane somewhere over Greenland right now, coming back home. My looking does not make the plane arrive any earlier, or with any greater degree of safety. But I feel comfort in knowing, as I leave the house for provisions, that for now, my world is safe. There's a certain warmth in knowing that someone you love is happy and well, even if they do not need to be present for that feeling to exist, the feeling, a wet finger on a burning wick, hot, but not scorching, possessing a slow deep solidity of heat that only the tragedy of time's cessation would truly extinguish.
All well in my world, heavy metal on the radio but not so loud I can't hear a horn or a siren, Barkley smiling in the back seat, I head out to the farm supply store for dog food. I see a teenager, a cute little thing, walking along the side of the road in a very isolated area, listening to tunes from the little buds in her ears, head down. I want to stop the truck and say "do you know how EASY it would be to snatch you off the road", not that it would change her behavior. Some people don't have to even be snatched, they walk right into their fate with an apology on their lips. Ted Bundy lured women to their death with a cast on his arm and a shy smile, the women feeling too guilty not to help out this poor guy and they were brutalized and died for their efforts.
We are so afraid of getting into anyone's business or even looking closely at our own, that we often fail to look around us, to watch for threat, even as we appreciate all the good that is still around us. Tensions builds, darkness threatens, yet there will always be someone, head down, not noticing , with a "lalalalala". It's scary when I see that in a young woman, prey for so many. It's even scarier when I see it in those, that by their power, are supposed to make things safer so when I am ready and willing to defend myself, it's against a manageable target.
It wasn't always this way. In my Dad's time, a nation attacked us without warning and we dropped a very large atomic bomb on them. Today, we apologise profusely to those who wish to kill us, closing the shutters so we don't see rogue nations continue to build their nuclear capability. We close our mouths, stopping our protests before they become sound.
Not all of us are like that, we watch, we are concerned and we're not afraid to speak up about it. I think of this blog community, many of you here that I have met, thousands I have not. Yet when a blog goes silent, usually because someone did the ring of salt wrong when setting up their new blogger template, someone always speaks up. "What happened to Matthew, his site is down?" Someone else, "he's fine, just not going to maintain a blog". Others offering help if the issue IS technical. Well wishes for the new parents, condolences for our losses, support during illness. Some cash in a tip jar for an unexpected emergency in a working family. Rituals from those who remember the divinity of rituals, a few minutes each day we rescue each other deep in the middle of an anonymous web.
We read the news, we surf the web, just as we walk the streets, motion, stopping, pausing, looking, the whole world moving with the click of a heel, the click of a mouse, so much dependent on how quickly we come into view and move out again, how much we really are aware of in that moment. But we watch, we listen, we think, we prepare to survive, we prepare to defend. We are less strangers than you think, this tribe of bloggers.
Chores done for the weekend, I go for a short walk, not moving swiftly yet on a knee still tender sometimes, to take the dog with me on a leash, but moving, finding the composition of lift and motion that will propel me forward, help me recover, scanning the horizon for anything unusual, gun on my hip under my jacket. I live in a little town some miles from the big city but close enough we have to be vigilent. It's relatively quiet, with some nice houses, other people I see out walking their labs. But there are still a few homes that look like the only lab that have is of the meth variety. I see an older neighbor and stop and ask her about her grandchild, she asks about my family, and I thank her, small connections, small reassurances.
I see someone on the bike trail that goes past my road. I recognize her, a city clerk, another volunteer at the food kitchen. She tells me of the volunteer in our group, a working single Mom that didn't show up last time, an illness in the family with an elderly parent that lives with them. I know that person's first name but that is about it. We make arrangements to meet up with some containers of homemade suppers to take over to her as the young lady on the bike knows the woman's address. I don't know her last name, I don't need to, I just know she is a hard worker and needs a little help.
We wave goodbye, and I head out into the open area. I see a movement off in the brush. Dog? Coyote? Now I knew I was in no danger from the coyote or his brethren, but I was in his world. To my eyes, his world was dark, every noise I make a threat or a promise. Where he could see, I was blind, where he could smell, my senses were mute. What he could hear eluded me completely. What drew him in, was as old as time and as uncaring. While I had intellect and size he had the grimness of infallibility, instincts honed through generations of survival in an ever dangerous land. Despite the scientific part of my brain telling me that logically I was in no danger there are primal forebodings that stir softly in our blood. Times, despite logic, that cause a less than subliminal sense of something lurking, watching. Something that stalks quietly, closer to our world than we want.
I see a young man I don't recognize, coming from the direction of town I tend to avoid. His eyes are binge drinking slits, downcast, his hands in his pockets, his whole movement, one of coiled tension and anger, at his parents, at life, who knows. I clear my throat and make eye contact and move across the street towards the gleam of a light in a window, walking head up, hand ready, determined in my movements, even if I still have a bit of a limp when I'm tired. He moves away and past, paying as little attention to me as he does his own grooming, not knowing that had he moved with the intention of harm, I would have dropped the whole world on him.
I care, for people, for friends, even for strangers who, having lived lives of work and honor, just need a little support. But I have a limited capacity for empathy for scavengers and predators, having seen in my travels around the world, some absolute realities beyond the billboard of illusion that the socially and politically naive never imagine.
Arriving back home, I turn the key in the lock, from inside,hearing from inside, the hiss and click of claws on the tile and then a ferocious WOOF! Barkley ready to protect his home from burglars looking to harm either Mom or that 2 pounds of Amish bacon in the freezer. "Good boy Barkley!" He gets a little treat from my pocket as I turn on the TV to check the weather forecast. Instead I see Iran's fearless leader, spouting threats of attack for the world's sanctions even while proclaiming his lack of intent to use his nuclear capability for anything other than good. Words stated with fixed and deadening smile.
Maybe I am too cynical. Maybe we should apologise, maybe we should just care more. Send the man some love, a card, a candygram, a really big bomb.
As I get to the porch, I hear a noise a short distance away. It's a familiar cop car pulling in, little kids inside the house, squeeling like tires, anxious to greet Dad. I smile and wave from the front window, even as I make sure the door is locked. Back home, someone is knocking on my Dad's door, with food, with care, making sure he's not alone tonight. He looks through the peephole, unlocks the door and opens his home and his heart, all that is left to him. In his closet a military uniform, on his porch an American flag, within his reach, a shotgun that has fed and protected him for over 75 years. On the table, a photo of a tiny spitfire of a woman, years before her bones shrank inwardly, her mind and her flesh growing sparse in those last days that he never ever, left her side.
We love with great depth, we defend with great pride, we protect with a generation's honor, even as we always keep our guard up, our eyes open equally to worry and wonder.