What Stands

We can’t not watch.

The crowd: the taunts, the jeers, the threats. They push past the police line. They scramble up walls.

They chant.

Again and again, the police give way, scrambling for a further place to stop and turn.

Windows break and the crowd surges—insurgents surging inside. A confederate flag stalks the floor of the Capitol building. A leering person sits, feet up, at Nancy Pelosi’s desk. (Later, we’ll learn that he stole a letter from her desk, took himself a piece of official business. He told a journalist he paid for that letter, leaving behind a little pile of change and a threatening note.)

There is smoke and there are screams; there is chaos.

There is rabble.

*********************************

“It’s going to be all right, Mom, isn’t it?” Jim asks. He is dread-fascinated before the unbelievable, unfolding scene.

I dig deep to find my comforting voice.

“It is, Buddy,” I say. “It is going to be all right. Help will come. They’ll take care of this. Let’s turn off the TV.”

But I can’t reassure myself so blithely. Things fall like dominoes…truth, integrity, respect…toppling before absurd denial, self-interest, greed.

Things fall and fall. The big things are falling.

And when it seems like everything falls, what stands?

*****************************************************

Mark, who believes in the system, who has staked his career on the system, comes home early, angry, and turns on the TV again. When dinner is ready, I ask him to turn it off, and we eat a quiet meal.

Afterward, Jim retreats to the basement, works on his computer, and Mark suddenly starts to tell me about a young colleague who came to see him. She wanted his opinion on a program she thought would help victims of violence.

She unspooled her plan, thoughtful and clearly defined, while he listened. Mark talked about her determination, of the flame that leapt when she described what’s needed, what could be done.

There was knowledge and empathy and passion there, he said.

And when things fall, I realize, passion stands.

**************************************************************

I take refuge in work, in working at a place that, by its very nature, affirms that life can be, will be, better. I speak with a woman who believes that all children can learn, that books can open doors, that magic can happen when good people come together and craft a solution.

She’s a little beleaguered, this believer,–but she has a clear vision of how the load could be shared and the work distributed so that no one is overwhelmed and so that the magic still bubbles.

She has a firm handle; the only thing I can offer is an appreciative ear and affirming voice.

When the call is done, I ponder her heart for her work, and her determination not to give up, and her complete lack of concern for herself.

And I think that when everything seems to be falling, selflessness stands.

*********************************************************************

In the afternoon and through the evening, texts and messages arrive. They are thoughtful and measured; they are grieving, but resolute. They offer faith—that young people watching the chaos unfold will insist on a land where such things do not take place, and that healing, still, will happen.

I realize that, even isolated, constricted, masked and distanced, we are never so far away that friendship fails.

Amid the toppling and the crashing, friendship stands.

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I see the foot doctor this week, and he’s happy.

“Any restrictions?” I ask, carefully, so I can report back truthfully to Mark, and no, he says; no: just use good judgement.

So today I judge that it’s time for my first official outdoor walk, post-surgery, and I lace up my big-toe-boxed sneakers and zip up my fleece, and I head out.

It is a gray day, and cool; it’s cold enough to snow, but nothing comes down from the heavens. As I walk, the sun emerges, pale and wintry, but golden-true.

And I find my pace and swing my arms and I walk to where an old dog runs out to greet me, barking a warning (protectiveness, loyalty…), and I turn back.

It feels so good to walk; it feels a lot, I think, like meditation.

Where the old school used to be, on the corner where I turn to head for home, the lot has been scrolled with paved pathways. In the spring, a park will spring up.

Today, a father and his daughter are there. I am guessing she might be six; she is all arms and legs and flying blond hair, as thin as a jittery greyhound, and gusting along on high roller skates.

She rushes; he follows, one hand ready to catch. Hoodie, tattoos, ripped jeans: she may be a fragile princess; he’s an edgy, bow-legged, cowboy rock star.

She brakes abruptly on the far path; she turns to him and pleads. He runs to catch up. He helps her unzip her jacket, pulls it over her fluttering hands (talking, talking, talking), tucks it under his arm.

All that skating; she must be getting hot. Off she flies again, and off he follows, patient and protective.

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If I encountered that young man, all alone and all unknowing, on a dark street, I’d make up an excuse and cross to the other side. I’d be seeing from the fear side of the lens, and I would never know that what makes him move, what propels him forward, is the kind of patient love he shows for his little girl.

Things fall. They fall and shatter. But love—of course, love stands.

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This is not to say that things are all right. They are not.

Things are broken, and they need to be fixed.

Hatred has been unleashed in the world, and it spreads like an inky, rotten stain, and how do you fix that?

But the small decencies of everyday make a difference.

And the big integrities of everyday—those make a difference, too.

And when we live in a world where there’s selflessness and love…well, then there is hope.

The stain will remind us, and we will move forward, changed and wary.

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For now, I need to realize this: even when it seems like everything falls, things stand.