Friday, April 29, 2011

Talking to Strangers

Never talk to strangers we're told. If, while you're out, on foot, and a stranger stops his or her "vehicle" and asks you to come closer, don't! I'm, of course, no longer a child, though child-size. In northern New England, where I visited last week, I went out on the unexpectedly warm morning the day before Easter and walked down a dirt road, mountains in the distance, water rushing in the ditches. Small daisy-like yellow wildflowers--not sure what they were--had opened: all flower, no leaf. (Camera broken so no photo.) Happily I poked along--literally: I had picked up a walking stick. Down the steep dirt road I went and, when the road petered out, turned back, making my way to the paved road.

Though there wasn't much traffic I walked facing oncoming cars and made sure my long red scarf was visible. On the side of the road I picked up a discarded pale purple shopping bag in good condition. I'll use this, I thought, stick in one hand, empty holiday bag in the other. A voice called, 'Isn't it a beautiful morning!' Startled I looked to my right and saw a woman who had stopped her SUV in the middle of the road. Her large, round, bright face came at me from the driver-side window. A girl, most likely her daughter, sat in the passenger's seat, her head down.

'Yes,' I answered. 'Beautiful.'

'Are you going to church?' she asked.

'No,' I said in a perfectly even voice.

'I have something for you,' she said. Her smile was sunny and intense.

Curious, I went closer. She held out a pen and a card encased in plastic. Her serious daughter never looked up. The driver's eyes lit up: big, round, blue. I took the pen.

The woman waved and drove off. I held the pen and read the message in shades of blue. "Welcome Friend!" Welcome printed five times in differently sized fonts. At the bottom of the card: "We're blessed because you're here." On the reverse side were verses from the New Testament, mostly from the Book of John, and sayings: "God loves you!" followed by "We all feel the terrible effects of sin in our lives." I looked at the lovely pale blue mountains in the distance. A woodpecker tapped, tapped again. Wandering again I walked on, the violet bag on my arm.

The blue pen on the kitchen counter in South Beach where I'm typing is still sealed in plastic. Through the plastic I can make out the fine print circling the bottom of the pen: John 14:6. The verse appears in full on the card: "Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.'" I don't break the seal.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rumi and Agave: "Safe from Virtue and Vice"

A huge agave plant sends up a towering tree-like stem, and flower in which a bird perches. The Persian poet, Rumi, sends us this poem:

A Just-Finishing Candle

A candle is made to become entirely flame.
In that annihilating moment
it has no shadow.

It is nothing but a tongue of light
describing a refuge.

Look at this
just-finishing candle stub
as someone who is finally safe
from virtue and vice,

the pride and the shame
we claim from those.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Public Places

The public park is full after school. After-school goes on until dark. These boys filled the bench. After I took the shot, a boy said, 'Isn't that against the law?' 'Not in a public place,' I answered, identifying myself as a writer and blogger. 'Freedom of the press,' another boy said. We talked for a while about public and private. 'It would be against the law if I took your picture in a private place without your permission,' I said. They asked me about taking pictures of famous people. They didn't express any interest in being famous themselves and weren't interested in seeing the picture of themselves. They wanted to discuss ideas.

I like public pleasures--frangipani, sea grape, palm, park benches, beaches open to all, though I wish my fellow citizens would not litter the beach. These boys should have access to fine public schools, public universities. They have access to the park, to flowers, to the ocean, to a first-rate swimming pool, and tennis courts--all public.