This year, Christmas and New Years Days were days of intense reflection. Perchance, that is true every year and for every individual. I cannot know what is true for others. I am only certain that on each of these dates I was immersed in a rigorous course of study. My gifts or the curriculum came wrapped in a routine event.
The lessons covered were Empathy and Education, although perhaps these were presented in reverse order. Possibly, the truer program was entropy and encouragement. Each edifies. I wonder; on each of the two days these topics were intertwined. In my attempt to analyze and understand what I needed to learn or did, I invite your assessments. Please indulge me as I share the story.
Each was a sunny Saturday. On neither of the dates, December 25, 2010 or January 1, 2011, was I locked in a classroom. Nor did I enter a library, a lecture hall, or school. Indeed, no walls surrounded me. I was as I am every Saturday of the year, with one exception, at the “Peace Corner.” The name was given to the intersection of two major highways in my local community years ago. Then, people came out weekly to stand vigil for global harmony. That time was long ago, and far, far, far away.
In the last thirteen months or so, more often than not, I appear at the crossroads alone. My constant companions are my thoughts and signs. One sign is but the index and middle fingers held high in a gesture of peace. The other is a single poster that reads “Love! Not War. Love!”
On occasion, one or two other persons also grace the Peace Corner. However, if either of these individuals appears, they and I do not stand together. Hence, regardless of the Saturday, I place me, myself, and I on the Northwest side of the streets. I have no desire to engage in conversation with another activist. I only wish to connect with passer-bys. Eye contact with drivers and walkers is all I need.
At times, someone approaches me from the street. Others offer opportunities to share as they travel down the sidewalk. I am open to learn from these chance encounters. Admittedly, I cannot be sure what will be said, done, thought, before or after an exchange. I can only accept that I will be touched, intrigued, quiz, and question for myself, what does it all mean.
Christmas Day, or the date customarily adopted in America as the holy day, gave gifts I have yet to comprehend. In 2010, the streets were bare. Nary an automobile was in site. Egrets were everywhere. I pondered. Might these lovely white birds anxiously await the celebration each December. The quiet calm truly captured my attention and theirs. The lovely herons swooped and dove gracefully through the air. When an occasional automobile appeared on the scene, stopped as required by a red directional signal, uncharacteristically, the two-legged winged animals perched themselves atop the metallic being for the minutes of immobility.
I have never seen the Egrets more enthusiast, energetic, and serene. The dance these creatures did was well orchestrated, I felt as though I had been given front-row seats to a theatre production meant only for the privileged few. That is, until the silence was broken.
On this Christmas Saturday, as pious people prayed in churches, or gathered together with loved ones a man sped through the intersection. Upon seeing my signs, or the little person I am, he screamed. “F**k You!” Yes. Whilst the religious recognized a devout devotion to the deity donned the Lord, this grateful gent appreciated the chance to vent. I can only speculate. In what way did my presence, my message or I, offend his sensibility. What was stirred within him? Likely, I will never know.
A pedestrian, a far gentler soul voiced his view of the occurrence. With a knowing smile, the man who stood within inches of me moments later said of the other, “He’s just stu**d.” Since I think no one can be characterized in such a manner, this answer did not satisfy my curiosity. Nor did it suffice. However, I cannot imagine that I might be granted an opening to ask the aggressor what disturbed him so. I do not envision a day when we might meet. I have faith divine intervention is a possibility. I will not hold my breath.
The day went on. Once this person passed the tranquility of the day returned. Fascinating to me, people were less receptive to my presence than they are normally, on every other Saturday. In a time thought to define “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill to all men,” there was little shown to my signs or me. Having been at the Peace Corner for sooooooooo many years, I thought this was truly odd. Why might it be that more kindness and care is shown on days that do not honor Christ’s birth? Entropy? I have my theories, although I rather hear yours.
If you would, please consider what I think might be a lesson presented in tandem. Today.
New Years Day 2011, was equally, actually more unusual. In the last decade, never have people been so very responsive to my message or me. I would have imagined that with increased traffic, a focus on shopping and sales, a fervent desire to dash hither and yon, a far less consecrated day would deliver far fewer acknowledgements of peace. Yet, the opposite was true. Everywhere I turned, and I do face the oncoming traffic, be it going North, South, East, and West, people smiled. Countless placed their fingers in a sign of peace. Car horns honked constantly and not at other vehicles. Drivers made certain that I knew these toots were meant for me. Car loads of persons young, old, and all ages in-between waved to me. Hands were held high in a sign of accord. Out of many a window, from each side of a car, fingers flew in a gesture that mirrored my own.
Suddenly, near the end of my hour at the crossroads, a late model, newly washed burgundy Sports Utility Vehicle approached. A nicely dressed woman drove nearer. She wore a black print dress and a huge smile. Her raven colored hair was long, lush, and curly. In the passenger seat, nearer to me, sat a nice-looking man. His shirt was well-pressed, long sleeved, and as white as his bright grin. Each seemed excited to see my. I thought perhaps they were lost and hoped I was a local who would provide directions.
That turned out not to be the case. Elatedly, the woman spoke. She said, “I see you here every week.” Breathlessly, she continued. “About a month ago, I decided to buy a book for you.” More animated with each word she uttered, she said, “I have looked for you every Saturday since. “ I assured her, I was there every week, even on the most recent Saturday passed, Christmas Day. I thought possibly she came by before or after I left in earlier weeks. I did not have time to inquire. Impatient with glee and happy to finally connect, the sweet stranger presented me with the tome. Grateful for the expression of kindness, I quickly read the large type, “An Endless Falling in Love.”
Unfamiliar with the title, I thanked her and thought of how special it is. My mere presence inspired her to think thoughts of love. The pair said “God bless.” Each thanked me for doing as I do. Then, as traffic whizzed by, the vehicle merged into the flow. In an instant they were out of sight.
Curious, I tried to scan the cover. Yet, I did not wish to neglect what for me is my priority while at The Peace Corner, the people as they pass. I tucked the paperback behind my poster and continued to receive the endless warm welcome acknowledgements. For many minutes more, the air was filled with friendly exchanges. When it was time for me to be with me and continue the day, I read on. I discovered the manuscript was more religious than spiritual. The woman had handwritten a somewhat personal or practical note. She shared her name and the name of the church she is affiliated with.
While I am not a follower of a religious faith, for doctrines do not fill me with delight, I am nonetheless extremely touched. As one who believes that we each have a profound effect on all others, I am grateful for the recognition. The couple’s choice to come close to me, to grace me with goodwill, and bestow benevolence in the form of a book and bequest . . . this is special to me. Encouragement. I think it is Part Two of an intensive study I trust has not ended.
The lessons I learned thus far from the woman I will call Donna and the aggressive distressed man whom I met on Christmas Day taught me. Empathy and Education come at us from every direction. Entropy and encouragement are also encountered. These qualities greet us on each avenue. Compassion, connections, and a chance to comprehend find us on street corners. Often we do not understand the messages or do not relate to the thoughts in a manner consistent with their intent. Still, unexpectedly, we are edified.
Mostly, we never know what another hopes to teach us. Nonetheless, I have no doubt, we learn from and with each other. Be it a holiday, a holy day, a hump day, or just a day, we gain knowledge. Please tell me, what did you learn from my story, or your own. Whatever it is, I feel certain that your experience, interpretation, and mine, will be wondrous, for each of us is a glorious Teacher.