Saturday, June 16, 2012

The man, out walking

The other day, I was out on my usual walk. From a distance, I saw a man, walking in the middle of the street. Something was odd about his gait, his carriage, some kind of combination of physical and mental limitation or condition. I'd seen him before, maybe once or twice, same thing, middle of the street, walking fast, and reciting, rhythmically as he walked, repeating the same phrase (or approximately the same phrase) again and again, completely in his own world. What was he saying?
     What he was saying seemed to be divided into two parts.
     I was quite certain I could hear the first part: "Thanks to God." But the second part I translated into "Bum-pa-bump." "Thanks to God, bum-pa-bump." I don't actually think he was saying "bum-pa-bump," but it was the closest I could figure.I thought that he was wearing earbuds, so perhaps he was listening to a tape and repeating as he went.
     At any rate, before I knew it, I had taken up the chant, became a hipster, walking to a rhythm, almost like John Travolta strutting down the street (Thanks to God, bum-pa-bump). I felt newly alive in my walking, more energetic. It wasn't the God part. It was the rhythm that was fueling me. And very quickly I was transported to two faraway memories. The first, from more than 35 years ago, and a summer night in Ann Arbor, at a party (Thanks to God, bum-pa-bump), out on a terrace, with some curly-haired young man I hardly knew, doing the bump. No strings attached, nothing at stake, a moment of pure summer (Thanks to God, bum-pa-bump).

The second memory (Thanks to God, bum-pa-bump) was about my daughter, from 10-15 years ago. One of the teachers at her school had started a gospel choir, and that music was so alive and so soulful, that gospel choir became one of the most popular after-school activities. The teacher/leader was black, but the students who came to sing were a diverse lot, including my daughter. When the group performed, the students wore long scarves draped over their shoulders--the colors of Africa--and came down the aisles, in long rows, stepping in a slow, rocking procession, up to the stage.
     One night, I took my daughter out to a local Thai place for dinner after gospel practice, and she was so jazzed up, she starting singing one of their songs, swaying and clapping "Jesus is Mine." This was somewhat astonishing, seeing her so loose and so free, but the most amusing part was when I noticed my daughter's Hebrew School teacher just a few tables down, looking at us oddly. We still laugh about that memory sometimes.
     I love the way a walk (Thanks to God, bum-pa-bump), and oddly crossing paths with another human can open up whole worlds. Thanks to God, bum-pa-bump. Thanks to God, bum-pa-bump. Thanks to God, bum-pa-bump.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Something that Made Me Mad

The other day, on NPR, the place where I get a lot of my news, I heard the story about the fundraising battle of the two presidential candidates--mounting into the multimillions on both sides, one striving to outdo the other, two gladiators fighting with dollars. This broke my heart at the same time that it prompted the anger surge that could turn a vulnerable type into a monster. What a waste, I thought. Put the multimillions into the schools and the refrigerators of hungry people. Use it to fix the infrastructure and clean up environmental disasters and provide health care for people who need it. Don't piss it away on attack ads and all the rest of the stupidity. I wonder how many people really are undecided as to their vote (I mean, really undecided, not just in the answers they give in opinion polls) and/or are swayed by all those speeches and ads and bus tours. And by the way, as Gail Collins wrote in the Times a couple weeks ago, why are we even going to bother with the Democratic and Republican conventions--and all the waste of money and time and resources they entail--when we already know the outcome of both?

Anyway, it made me mad--with a bitter feeling--more than I usually feel about political issues or questions. I'm far more interested in literature and art and sociological/anthropological questions. It rattled me (and by the way, that's not a rattlesnake up there; it's a python). And it was a feeling that's been hard to let go of. At the same time, it's a feeling that's hard to know what to DO with.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with my friend Margaret. She lives in DC, and I hadn't seen her for a long time, and it was wonderful to see her, and we had a great afternoon, sitting in my yard and drinking homemade ginger limeade and catching up on old times as well as the present. But as it approached the time for her to leave, our conversation sort of veered into the dark territory of uncertainty about the future and the economy and all the rest.

It seemed important not to part from each other with that kind of darkness in the air, so I told her about Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif's commitment to optimism as a moral imperative, which I have written about here before. And that seemed to soothe Margaret a bit. And then she told me how living in DC had gotten her addicted to following the news, in every detail, including reading every opinion piece, and how this had really come to wear her down, especially last summer, during all the budget shenanigans. And she told me that she had decided to almost 100% swear off reading the news, and especially opinion pieces ("They're just opinions," she said), and that as a result, she has come to feel far more centered and peaceful, focusing on the pieces of the world that matter most to her and that she can actually affect. She also mentioned how much she appreciates Jon Stewart and his take on politics, as well as the rally he held last year, and which she attended. And together we expressed awe at what he did that day, and especially (in my opinion) the piece he did at the end, about how humans really do know how to cooperate. Look at what they do every single day to get through the Holland Tunnel.
 And with that, we finished our ginger limeade, and Margaret had to move on to her next stop.