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La Bella Luna

How do you know when you’ve seen the moon?

All the time I lived on Redbird Farm, there was never any question of seeing the moon. Without lights from the city or even neighboring farms, the night skies dazzled with stars, the milky way ribboned its bright blaze among them, and the moon waxed and waned, sometimes making a snow-covered field nearly as bright as daylight. A full moon meant more restless beasts moving through the fields, a new moon meant much darker skies, and one memorable winter eclipse found my parents and me huddled together watching the mystery outside my bedroom window in the wee hours.

When the moon is full, it’s full for the entire planet—unlike the seasons, for example, that flip-flop depending on which hemisphere you’re in or the constellations that shift and change locations. So the moon I saw when I moved away from the country to cities and suburbs in the east was the same moon shining without question on my childhood home.

After four days of advanced yoga teacher training, a three and a half hour drive home, and the compression of stepping into Monday after not having a weekend to reset, I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see the supermoon. I was concerned there would be clouds spreading along the eastern horizon as it rose; I was fairly certain I would be driving west at moonrise; I was feeling jealous of the reports of its luster and beauty that people were sharing online and in person.

I was, in fact, driving west at moonrise. I had taken my second trip east in just a few days’ time to Seventeen’s college home—Monday’s trip was to deliver the altered suit we had shopped for the week before. Seventeen quite suddenly needed a new suit (his first) in the middle of the semester because he was selected to go on a school-sponsored trek to meet Warren Buffett at the end of this week. To say he’s excited is an understatement: “Everyone else is thinking about Thanksgiving,” he told me after we enjoyed afternoon tea at the local coffee shop, “all I’m thinking about is meeting Warren Buffett.” Meeting Warren Buffett is Seventeen’s super-hero-moon.

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My Super-Seventeen in his new threads. If you’d like a picture of or more information about the supermoon, visit earthsky.org.

So taking three hours at the end of a long teaching day immediately following four days of yoga immersion to deliver the required suit felt just right. I turned for home in a fiery sunset of orange and deep pink, the stubble of harvested fields stretching out, a surprising amount of green lingering along the roadside thanks to our temperate fall. The electronic road signs flashed warnings about watching for deer—it’s mating season or the rut and the deer tend to lose their heads and run in every direction. As the sky grew dim and the glare from oncoming lights made it hard to see, I thought about that and drove alert, watching. I did see some deer, but they were deep in the fields foraging for corn dropped by the harvesters.

I was all the way back in the lights of Des Moines when I saw it in my rearview mirror. The moon rose, huge and plum-colored, a giant orb. There were indeed clouds, but they were wispy and only heightened the effect. Just at the right moment my route turned south and the moon was on my left, where I could glance between it and the road, marveling. In no time it was up, the plum wash dripping off of it, replaced by a peach sheen. Ten minutes later I pulled into the high school parking lot, turned my car to face east, and watched it ascend, growing more and more luminous.

Fourteen came bouncing out of play rehearsal to the car and we admired the moon together on the drive home. It hung right over our house when we drove up the hill, but from inside it was impossible to see. Ninety-Two was looking for it. She has recently adapted to using her walker, tricked out with a wire basket and a bag, stabilizing her as she roves around the house. But to see the moon just then, she had to abandon the walker, hold on to my arm, navigate two tenuous steps into the three-season room we call the East House, and work her way cautiously across the floor. We were rewarded for our efforts by the now silvery orb that seemed to be playing among the dark, leafless tree branches. On the unheated porch we stood close-by, admiring it’s beauty.

“How do you know when you’ve seen the moon?” My mother asked me.

I think of some of the marvelous things that I’ve seen—Michelangelo’s David in Florence, the Eiffel Tower, the birth of my two babies, the Washington monuments at night, the sun setting over the Pacific, the Redwoods, kittens exploring the grass, a room full of people exploring their practice—there are so many and somehow this supermoon feels like one of them, a confirmation that the natural cycles and order of things continue in spite of a series of events and happenings that left me feeling shredded over the past two weeks (and for the record here, I am referencing not only the election, but also teaching yoga in the wake of the shooting of two police officers here in my community and several personal muddles I am trying to untangle). I don’t want to stop watching the moon, but I need to return my mother to the safety of her walker, to attend to dinner, to write a check for the monthly water bill due the next day. We reluctantly turn, thinking our moon time is over.

Overnight the supermoon and I have several more encounters—it’s shining its light into my bathroom skylight as I brush my teeth and sending light across my bed in the wee hours when Katy comes to purr and celebrate the unlikely event that we’re both awake. And then it’s still up when I take Fourteen to meet her morning bus—it’s a pale orb now, with the sunlight fast arriving in the east and the moon still big in the west. There’s a lake near my house. I drive there to take a last look. Just as I pull in, a great blue heron comes skimming over the water and lands on the shore not twenty feet away. I look at the heron looking at the moon. Together we watch three mallard ducks swim parallel to the shore, their gentle wake rippling the moon’s reflection in the water. A few fluffy clouds reflect the pink of the sunrise—these, too, are a part of the tableau the heron and I regard. The great bird bends its knees a little and lifts off, flying after the ducks. A Midwestern seagull cuts across the sky and I wonder, as I always do when I see them, if it even knows about oceans or if lakes are enough water for the bird I associate with beaches and salt.

It’s time to go home where my morning tea is waiting and I smile then. I am no longer envious of my friends who have taken and posted pictures or comments about this moon on social media. I don’t need to purchase a supermoon tee shirt or even snap a photograph, although I have tried with my inferior phone camera to capture an image. I have enjoyed an entire night of moments with the supermoon, and as these words begin lining up in my imagination, I know that I can write about what happened. For me, it is in capturing the experience in words, in telling my story, that I know I have indeed seen the moon.

Thank you for witnessing with me. As ever and always, Rxo

 

 

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On-Balance

On-Balance

“The boy is father to the man … ” what does that even mean?

For sixteen amazing, glorious, overwhelming, capital I interesting days in 1981, I lived alone at the age of fifteen. My father had a short-term guest teaching spot in Wichita, KS, and my mother was overseeing spring planting on the farm that was still home base in Iowa. I was finishing my sophomore year of high school in Tucson, AZ, a year when I had found my groove academically and socially. Apparently, my parents thought I was also grown up enough to survive on my own, albeit with a list of vigilant onlookers in case I should need them.

My friend Wade’s mother picked me up each morning to give me a ride to school (I only overslept once). The school bus or the city bus brought me within a half-mile walk home in the afternoon. I checked in each evening with a neighbor named Elaine, a woman who taught me that every lady looks prettier surrounded by soft pink, even when she’s a fierce tiger inside. Those were the days when long-distance phone calls were a premium price, but at a sleepy eleven p.m., I called and talked to one or the other of my parents and assured them all was well.

None of my friends yet held a driver’s license, so it took a flurry of phone calls to make weekend plans, to figure out first what we were going to do and then who’s parent was willing to drive us there and who else would deliver us home. Plans arranged, I was getting ready Friday evening when a hard knock fell on the door to the casita my father rented just for the academic year.

The casita was part of a little development of short- and long-term furnished rentals attached to a tennis club nestled in a bend of the mostly dry Rillito River. Like most dwellings in Tucson, it had thick stucco walls that cooled in summer and held the sun’s warmth in the winter. Instead of a rain-diverting tile roof, however, the houses in our development had flat roofs. During spring rains, ours had leaked.

One leak was directly over my room. During a torrential storm, the water ran down the interior wall and pooled in my bed. I woke up drenched, the bed and bedding destroyed, and all of the cards from friends in Iowa taped to the wall wet and curled, the ink running.

Our landlord was slow to respond. My parents withheld the next month’s rent. Our landlord still didn’t respond. My parents withheld another month’s rent. I’m certain there were strong words written and phone calls made, but no workmen arrived. We moved my bed to the middle of the room and in the off times when it did rain in the desert, my wall and the carpet on my floor continued to get soaked. The landlord continued to be unresponsive, and there may have even been a third month’s rent withheld before my parents left town for those sixteen days.

When I opened the door to the casita late that Friday afternoon, thinking to find the obliging parent who would give me a ride to the movie outing we had planned, I was met instead by a man encased entirely in black leather who had rolled right up to the door on an enormous motorcycle. He held his helmet under one arm, never even lifted his sunglasses, and asked me, not unkindly: “Are you Robin Bourjaily?”

It was all happening too quickly for me to do anything but assent that I was.

He handed me an envelope, “Then, this is for you. You’ve been served.”

He swung a leg over his motorcycle, settled his helmet on his head and roared the machine to life. He may have even tipped his hat and mouthed, “Ma’am,” over the engine before he spun off into the sunset. I stood there, trembling a little, the summons to appear in court shaking in my disbelieving hands.

The landlord was suing for payment of overdue rent and had managed to get a court date for the very next week when my parents would still be out of town, thus my name was on the paperwork alongside my father’s. It was a sneaky move. Even though I was a minor, it looked as though I could be held responsible if I didn’t show up to court. Then my family would be in the wrong for not paying rent as opposed to the landlord for not repairing the damaged roof.

I did the only thing I could think of—I walked across the hard-packed sand, passed the landscaped cacti that were still surprising to my Iowa-raised sensibilities, and knocked on Elaine’s door. In addition to knowing about color, Elaine was an attorney. She scanned the papers I handed her and flushed with anger. The suit was rubbish, she assured me, and putting my name on the paperwork a slick but ultimately ineffective move. She would take care of the matter herself. I was not to give it another thought.

I walked back to find my friend and her mother waiting to drive us to the movies. The whole world looked a little different—a new and less welcoming place, a place where I could be sued. In the lobby of the movie theater that night, as my friends were gathering, I anxiously told and retold my story. A late arrival called to us and I spun around to see, lost my balance and fell, hard. My friends surrounded me, lifted me, got napkins and helped me clean up spilled soda and popcorn. I wasn’t hurt, but I remember feeling toppled and smashed, maybe my life’s first Humpty Dumpty moment.

I remembered that fall again this week as I was focusing on balance in my yoga classes. Physical balance requires strength and flexibility,

Tree Pose, photo by Susan Austin

Tree Pose, photo by Susan Austin

an ability to adjust as we move our body parts into different configurations. Our balancing competence waxes and wanes with so many other influences—how much sleep we’ve had, what we’ve been eating, the time of day. In yoga we can opt to challenge the balance or to back off; we learn to meet ourselves where we are and move accordingly. Emotional balance off the mat isn’t much different, and sometimes I can translate the adaptive skills I learn on the mat to situations in the real world. But the day I fell in the movie theater, just fifteen years old, I didn’t know how to consciously find stability. My fall was a physical manifestation of my emotional response to all that was happening.

I was okay. My friends picked me up and we watched our movie. Elaine, my parents, and the landlord settled the matter amongst themselves, and my family moved out of the casita and back to the farm in Iowa less than a month later. In the ensuing years, I never forgot about that fall, and I came to understand its significance as a pivotal moment when a series of actions would spin me off-kilter, something that can’t help but happen at times as I navigate the world. With experience comes a larger set of life-tools, thus I’d like to believe it takes more to knock me into a metaphorical or real fall today. Still, when I look back I feel waves of gratitude today to my fifteen-year-old self, for what she learned and how her experience teaches me still.

My son, Fourteen, inquired of me what I meant by “the boy is father to the man” the other day. I tried to explain that sometimes we make choices when we’re very young that regard the adult we’ll become rather than for the person we are. But it’s so much more than that, I realized: Our layers of experience set down foundation for the way our life stories will unfold. Thanks, as always, for reading a part of mine. Namaste & much love as the Full Snow Moon wanes, Rxo

Pieces-Parts

Pieces-Parts

Which feeds you more, the writing or the yoga?

The year Fourteen turned Five, he announced he wanted to have a “going to the moon” birthday party. We invited his entire nursery school class, the Caterpillars, and all fourteen were planning to join us. Five is one of those governing points, the moment at which parents feel free to drop their children at a birthday party, arriving at the dot of two, escaping, and picking them up two hours later, just as the last fork-full of cake is being squished between eager lips. Most of the children in attendance celebrated their birthdays with friends at party places full of bounce houses or stables with ponies. Fourteen’s father and I were brave or foolhardy enough to host the moon party at home.

After the invitations were made and delivered, Turning-Five, his little sister not-yet-two, and I set about making a moon piñata. We bought an oversized red balloon, inflated it, and hung it from a stepladder over newspapers in the kitchen. I made flour and water paste and we tore strips of newspaper, slid them through the paste, and slapped them on the balloon. When the children found out we couldn’t paint the piñata until it was dry, Not-Yet-Two toddled away and Turning-Five got absorbed in a book. I sat on the floor pasting newspaper strips to the balloon, worried it wouldn’t be as resistant to battery as a store-bought piñata. But I had scoured the Internet for a moon-shaped piñata and been unsuccessful. I added more glue to more paper and applied more layers to the sphere.

It took a full week for the piñata to finally dry, and we painted it a happy yellow, the glowing full moon from the night sky. Then, I popped the balloon by cutting through the layers, made a large enough hole, and the children stuffed it full of candy, noise makers, and plastic animals. I used clear packing tape to patch the hole, and it was ready to hang on party day.

Other preparations included downloading a movie clip of the moon landing, edited together with a few launch scenes from the movie Apollo 13, covering star wands in glitter and hot-gluing trailing ribbons to the handles, baking a moon cake sixteen inches around, procuring snacks and drinks, and stringing twinkly stars from interior doorways. I wrote down the party plan: 2:00-2:15, guests arrive; 2:15, show video; 2:25, have everyone wave their star wands and arrive “at the moon.” 2:30-3:00 moon games in the backyard. 3:00-3:10, wash hands. 3:10-3:30 snacks and cake. 3:30-3:40, wash hands. 3:40-4:00, break piñata. If there was any part of the equation I wasn’t certain of, it was whether the piñata would hold for 15 minutes or so of bashing.

When the first guest arrived and the mother dropped her child in our care, Turning-Five’s father looked to me with raised eyebrows, “she’s not staying?” I shook my head. “Do we have enough for them to do?” I glanced at the piñata and waved my written-up plan at him. “We’ll be fine,” I said, mustering more confidence than I felt.

And so if I tell you that at 2:15 all of the guests were sitting in front of the TV, star wand party favors in their hands, glued to the moon landing and gasping as Neil Armstrong stepped out of Apollo 11, and at 3:55 they were bashing the piñata with all of their might, you would need to know that I was both pleased and breathing a huge sigh of relief. If anything went wrong at all, it was that the piñata was so strong the children couldn’t break it. In the moment before frustration turned to whiny mayhem, after each child had taken two full turns whacking at the moon, we got rid of the blindfold, handed the bat to the strongest kid, and let him beat on it without stopping until he finally created a crack. Turning-Five’s father shook the moon piñata then and ripped at the opening with his hands, scattering the contents across the early spring lawn. The children scrambled and their parents peeked over the fence, right on time to collect them.

I had filed away the moon-theme birthday party—now among the family party legends alongside the rainbow party, the get-messy party, the castle party, and the party for my mother at which the dining room chandelier dramatically caught on fire, exploded and dropped burning to the floor—until recently when I found myself planning a birthday party for a different two-year-old, my yoga studio. A more professional business owner might call it an anniversary, but last year when the studio was merely one, I looked up anniversary and birthday and couldn’t find a distinction. So I called one a birthday because birthdays are more cheerful than anniversaries.

Like a little person, a toddling studio with more-or-less adult guests still requires games, amusements, party favors, snacks, beverages, and cakescake (well, two cakes in this case). Planning was fun: door prizes, a guest book, and a guess-the-number game; Yoga Twister, for which I made up the rules and created a huge taped game board on the studio floor; a hooping demonstration by the studio’s talented and lithe hooping instructor; Kirtan, chanting and singing with our devoted Bhakti band; free classes on the day before and day of the party; and snacks and cakes, which I shopped for and made.

And just like any other birthday party, the deep cleaning, shopping, baking, taping, and making absorbed more of my time than studio work usually does, and I was pulled away from some of the other things I normally do. Like writing. My blog was neglected and I missed a variety of days in celebration of which I would have liked to add a post—the full moon in September, the first day of fall, National Punctuation Day, and the studio’s birthday itself. It wasn’t even just that I didn’t have time to write, in the little time I set aside to do so, I found I couldn’t put together a sentence that suited me.

The party was a delight, went off without a hitch, and I believe that both the studio and the people who enjoy their practices there were celebrated. Two in business years feels very similar to two in people years, but I tell myself that the studio is older, more mature, and may start taking on a little more of its own care. I tell myself this because I don’t like that recognizing its birthday took me away from one of my other, most important pursuits. “Which feeds you more,” Frank the talented Rolfer asked me during treatment, “the writing or the yoga?” “Honestly, I wouldn’t want one without the other,” I told him.

And this I know to be true. Practicing yoga, teaching yoga, owning a yoga studio: these have all given me insights into the world, space to grow and learn, physical awareness and stability, and a deeper connection to breath and thought. But writing gives me something else—writing is the place where I can pause and restore, bring memories like Fourteen’s fifth birthday party to mind, and share anew in their energy and meaning. With yoga practice I can notice the world around me, fall in love with a rainbow, glory in the full moon, turn within or move into the universe arms stretched wide. Without writing about my experiences, such moments slip away into a day crowded with moving pieces. Whether in a list, a blog post, or a work of fiction, if I examine what and how I live with words, I feel better, stronger, more complete, more alive.

The new moon dawned Thursday–the Hunter’s Moon–may this new month bring you a smooth transition of seasons, a lovely, languid fall with lots of pretty colors, and at least one delicious piece of cake. Thanks for sharing my journey, Namaste & love, Rxotwister cobra

Overneath It All 2012

What happens when a robin breaks her wing?

The chiropractor told me on my first visit that my shoulder is “acute.” The tightness and stress in my neck, rhomboids, and all manner of tiny muscles that feed into the inners workings of my shoulder plus overuse just before Thanksgiving caused tear-inducing pain. I think of myself as a pain wimp, but according to my doc the shoulder pain I’ve been living with on and off since February would have sent a lot of people over the edge long ago.

Maybe it’s my yoga practice. A couple of years ago I was in a workshop with Doug Swenson and he was answering a question from a participant. She said something like, “I can’t do it on that side, that’s my bad leg.” Doug, small, wiry and strong, shot back, “Then, that’s your teacher leg.”

Our aches and pains do teach us volumes, about what it is to be human and fragile and temporary. That they are object lessons in the making doesn’t make them easier to bear. The pain is one thing; the blues that go with them are quite another.

It’s been a year of aches and pains for me, most of them emotional or energetic. This current shoulder pain aside, my problems are first world problems. In the plus column, I am fed and clothed, I have a roof and a job (well, several), my children are happy, learning and thriving.

Still, pondering the year here at Overneath It All and thinking about writing a review post that might just sound a little like a holiday letter, I sat one recent morning and considered the highs and lows of the year. My word cloud of the 100 most-repeated words in my blog is revealing. I’ve written a lot about my children, about writing, about yoga. No surprise there. I’ve written, apparently, the word “like” many, many times, although I wonder about this because I’m not, like, you know, given to Valley-girl speak. That the word “writing” sits at the foot of it all, a solid foundation, makes my eyes grow wide and I smile. I’ve also written quite a bit about Menards, apparently, and my bank statements confirm I go there to spend money second only to Trader Joe’s on Tuesday mornings.

"Writing," my foundation and what I reach for. It, too, is overneath it all.

“Writing,” my foundation and what I reach for. It, too, is overneath it all.

I feel as though the cloud is incomplete. It doesn’t include the amazing friendships I’ve forged and deepened this year. It doesn’t make mention of a single martini, although I’ve enjoyed more than a few. It doesn’t update the ongoing stories blog posts have touched upon, nor does it project harbingers of what comes next. But it’s a picture of some of it, a snapshot, a place to begin.

At the end of December 2011, I wrote about my visualizations for 2012: This year I’ll be visualizing that published book, more yoga, more writing, happy, growing, engaged children, and yes, more martinis or cups of tea or delicious bites of chocolate, so long as there are friends to enjoy them with. I realized a part or all of these visualizations, although I’ve made less progress on my book than I’d like. And the “growing” part, if you read my last post about Thirteen you already know, has hit a bit of a roadblock. But excellent doctors are working on that. In April I wrote about wishes, specifically the wish for more time. In May I mentioned the garden, rich with sweet snap pea plants. That garden delivered many peas but little else as first weeds and then unbelievable heat took over this summer. I wrote more than once about my car—somehow it continues to chug forward and hold together in spite of itself (knock wood). I mentioned a list of things to do, written when I was five years younger than I am now. One of the undone items I took to heart this fall, and I’m 17 pounds lighter than I was when I wrote that entry. I wrote about the new kittens who are thriving and keep the house alive well past bedtime. For the full blue moon in August, I wrote a line that—and this was a first—a reader actually, kindly, quoted back to me: Breath by breath I rescue myself.

That’s some of what I’ve done this year. I’ve also cried, screamed to release pent-up frustrations while driving, downloaded an inordinate amount of emotional crap to friends who were kind enough to listen, and thumped my pillow more than a few times. I’ve dovetailed alternately between feeling like I was failing whatever test the Universe was hurling my way and feeling like I couldn’t get a break.

And then, the same week that Ten was on stage dancing the Nutcracker role she was destined for, the Party Girl wearing a green dress, I found myself with a sick child (Thirteen), a broken wing and jury duty.

But instead of making everything worse, somehow sitting in a room with a group of randomly selected strangers offered the onset of healing. Like a lingering body pain that teaches us to surrender, rest, and release superhuman expectations of ourselves, jury duty—where this time I did not serve—reminded me to let go, accept what is, and be a little more patient. My reward included completing my civic duty with little overall interruption to my parenting duties and clarity.

The metaphor isn’t hard. We shoulder the world, stand shoulder to shoulder with friends, cry on someone’s shoulder. Shoulder pain refers emotional stresses, burdens in our lives we somehow can’t address or resolve. My shoulder has hurt all through this year and its challenges. It got precipitously worse when I overused it physically, but that corresponded with a particularly heavy moment in my heart. It’s getting better, slowly, with physical care from my talented chiropractor. But I won’t pretend for a moment that it isn’t getting better because when I walked out of jury duty after the second day, I recognized the gift of space—I have space to move, space to manage my own schedule and thoughts, space to parent in, space in my heart, and progressively more space in my shoulder joint. My studio is a welcoming space where I love to work and people arrive every day to further their practice. My home is an evolving space that offers shelter and solace. My yoga creates interior space, my words connective space, my friendships loving space. And 2013? It’s the space of a whole new year, one where I shift beyond the need for rescue and into a larger frontier.

Happy Holidays and thank you for spending this year with Thirteen & Ten & poses & prose & me—I’m giving myself a mini-break from posting. See you around the new moon in January 2013. Much, much, much, much love, Rxo

Stranger Danger

Everybody’s got a story, what’s yours?

When Nine was little, she got such an earful of stranger danger education at school that she wouldn’t talk to anyone she didn’t know. Even when she had picked out exactly what she wanted, she would look to me to order for her in a restaurant; if someone in a store complimented her on her outfit, she would hide behind me. Once at a party she was glued to my side. I was talking to a woman, making a new friend, and she tugged on my arm so I could lean down and listen while she asked in a whisper why it was okay to talk to the woman since I didn’t know her.

I had to think about that before I could answer. What I came up with was that we were both friends of the hostess and we were doing something together, at a party to celebrate a grown-up’s success. Since we had two things in common, that made us less like strangers and more like potential friends. My explanation seemed to satisfy my little girl, although it was still a few more years before she got fully over the early lesson: don’t talk to anyone you don’t know.

Have borne Nine and Thirteen, the boy formerly known as Twelve, in a big city, having lived with them there through 9/11 and the DC Sniper attacks, having lived with a go bag, an escape plan, and a complete understanding of the school lockdown policies implemented during those trying times, I am relaxed and at ease in our middle-west capitol city. I leave the top down on my convertible with groceries in the back, I set my purse on the floor at the coffee shop and go to the ladies’ room, I hand my business card bearing my cell phone number out to anyone who inquires about yoga classes. It doesn’t mean I’m not watchful, but I feel safe here.

Then, a few days ago, the phone rang two minutes before I normally leave the house to walk to Nine’s bus stop and meet her after school. It was an automated message, reporting that all buses from her elementary school would be twenty minutes late. I puttered around for a little while and set out to meet her bus, expecting a tale of some odd kerfuffle to come tumbling forth. She was not, as I thought she would be, full of news. Instead, it was only after our usual exchange about the nature of her day that I asked, “Why was your bus late?”

In a voice I can only describe as sanguine, she told me, “We were in lockdown.”

Flipping out on the inside, but determined to match her composure, I asked, “Oh, really? Why?”

“I don’t know. My bus was called and I started down the hallway when I heard the really loud alarms, beep, beep, beep. The voice (she indicates the air and I gather she means an announcement over the loudspeaker) said: ‘We are in lockdown.’ So I went into a fifth grade classroom and they turned off all the lights. Then the voice said, ‘this is not a drill.’”

My mind is spinning, wondering what on earth could have caused this lockdown, but I speak calmly, “And how do you feel about that?”

“Oh, okay. I wish I had a cell phone so I could text you. It didn’t seem like very long …” It’s only then that she thinks to be alarmed and she clings to me, “It was freaky.”

I wrap my arm around her and we continue up the hill toward home. “Not to worry. You did everything perfectly and you’re safe and you’re home. We’ll find out what happened.”

As the afternoon unfolds we learn the details—not far from Nine’s school there was an altercation between two junior high students just arriving off of their bus. It involved a knife. Local police requested the elementary go into lockdown as a precaution. The entire episode was contained within twenty minutes and the elementary students released. The next day the principal treated the entire school, scooping ice cream himself for one class at a time, to root beer floats, in celebration of how efficiently and maturely the students handled the situation.

A few days later I’m driving Thirteen to a party at his junior high. I make sure he has his phone and tell him in the unlikely event I am late, be sure he waits with friends he knows well. He should ask his friends, in fact, to wait with him and make sure each of them has a ride before we leave. My mind is twisting the story of the week into a dark, sinister junior high full of errant youths with knives wanting to inflict harm. But when we arrive outside his school, the sun is shining and the joyful energy of eighth graders bouncing around in anticipation of their party is infectious.

I watch Thirteen climb out of the back of the convertible and smile as his friends stream over to greet him. My heart goes out to the boys who are not there—one recovering from being attacked, the other in trouble. After an initial flurry of reports, the story has dropped out of the news cycle, and we are unlikely to ever hear what happened, who said what to whom, why the situation turned violent. I wonder about their parents, too, and think how this story must have rocked their lives.

Sometimes, for events like these, if I really want to understand them, I turn to fiction. Sometimes, I turn to what I understand about human nature. Sometimes I breathe through the moment and carry on, as in this case, a wee bit more cautious perhaps. Mostly, I am reminded that we are complex characters, each and every one of us, and learning someone’s story is the only way to begin to learn who that person is. I look with new eyes as I maneuver through my day—the people I don’t know are strangers to me. Still, I am lucky and feel grateful that I live where I do, a place where a fifteen-minute precautionary school lockdown makes the news and taking the chance to learn a stranger’s story is more likely to net a new friend than a certain danger.

Nine climbing onto her bus. I always wave until she’s out of sight …

A new moon and an eclipse for this breezy day in May. Wishing you the chance to hear at least one person’s story and the opportunity to tell your own. Thanks for being a part of mine, Rxo

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