20 October 2009
Another train ride -- starts in Chicago, goes to southeast Iowa. In Mt. Pleasant there is the same old Victorian that is a funeral home. There is the casket in the front parlor, a plastic-looking man inside it. My uncle. The rosary, the aunts and uncles, old neighbors from the farm who tell stories like I wish I could. For a few days there are fried suppers, me eating potatoes because somehow I've gotten it in my head I don't eat meat. I drink pop because I'm off the sauce. There is the walk past the Old Threshers Fairgrounds and the Iowa National Guard to the cemetery, where I tip-toe, trying not to step on loved ones.
But see -- here I go about Iowa when I meant to write about Chicago. Yes: a train ride from cornfields to the big city. Golden fields not yet harvested. Hawks in flight, the meditations they induce. Mennonite girls with stiff bonnets pinned on; they play handheld video games and talk on cell phones. Beefy dudes with ponytails and tats.
Chicago: a dear friend I haven't seen since Morocco. "You're wearing a winter coat!" I cry when I see her. I had forgotten how tall she is. She has her son with her. After dinner he shows me his tae kwon do moves. Later, I think to myself, Wouldn't it be great if into adulthood we said to each other, "Do you want to see [insert thing you're good at]?" Just that easily? Just like that?
Here in Chicago (like Morocco, like New York, like Iowa), there are fall's swirling leaves and their inherent mystery. Yesterday, I was sitting in a room on the wood floor and suddenly a squirrel walked through the door -- just like that -- just that little squirrel face staring back at me.
I tell my friend I want to pay her fare at the Art Institute "for letting me stay at your house," I say. She balks. "'Letting you stay'?" she asks, "You sound like an American!"
You can't know until someone forces it upon you: how difficult it is to accept a person's kindness. Yes. I think we're trained to shirk kindness, to view it as weakness. My God how hard it is to just sit inside someone's open hand.
So we become a bit like those swirling leaves you see everywhere this time of year -- some of us trying to give, some of us running away, frantic reaching, frantic fleeing, mystery. I was thinking just now that it is vulnerability and human need that makes us most alive.
Posted by Sarah Dohrmann at 10:10