Contemplative Errands

I make my way east on Smith Road from our rural Ohio township, heading toward the nearest small town for this week’s errands — library, local market, fabric store. These last few tumultuous years I crave peace, so I don’t click on a podcast or audiobook. I drive in the quiet of my own thoughts. (They are not all that quiet.)  

It’s a gorgeous autumn day. Leaves are at their peak and stand out against vivid blue skies. Temperatures are an unseasonable 67 degrees. Even my light sweater is too warm.

On my left I pass a place that still yanks at my feels. For years an old house with a rotting roof stood there, surrounded by weeds and junk cars. Despite its decay, this was a home. It lifted my spirits to see laundry on the line and light in the window. That house surely survives in the memories of those who lived there. It also hangs on in a poem I titled, unimaginatively, “House On Smith Road.” Here are a few of its lines:

There are people who keep going
past all predictions,
chewed up by cancer
or rattling with emphysema.
They hold things together
for the daughter struggling
with heroin, the spouse
wandering through dementia.
I think of them as this house
slides ever closer to the ground,
plastic flowers still blooming 
on that brave tilting porch.

The old house was knocked down a few years ago and another home stands there now. I wonder if the new residents sense the energy fingerprint left by everyone who ever lived there – the old farmhouse most recently but also all who came before, back to the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, and back before them to the earliest peoples.  

Hills I drive over were carved by glaciers thousands of feet thick. The ice sheet was so heavy that earth’s surface is still rebounding from that long-ago weight. Between these gentle slopes lie fields of dry soybeans and baled hay brilliant in the sunlight.

I wave “go ahead” to a woman turning left on Columbia Road. I let my eyes rest on a house that captured my attention each election year. The yard was always festooned with signs for both Republican and Democratic candidates. Many times I’d see one sign blocking another, then the next time I’d see a bigger sign replace the blocked sign, like a checkers game played with opinions. It always gave me hope to see people with such different politics sharing one home.

I find myself behind a school bus and wait as it drops children off every few driveways. Little children in the back make silly faces in response to my finger-waggling ears.

Finally I arrive at the store. A man sits in the pickup truck next to me, windows up, engine running. I get out, pull on my mask, walk past another vehicle parked and running, this one with a young woman on speaker phone who talks in loud angry tones.

I go in to collect bounty sown, harvested, and held by many hands before mine: bananas, dates, walnuts, coffee, lentils, soap, wine, oatmeal.

I get in line behind a frail elder who hangs on hard to the cart handle, his middle-aged daughter solicitous as she unloads. A man with the name Eduardo on his tag never stops ringing up groceries as he lifts a hand in salute to this elder he calls “sir.” They talk easily and I notice the older man straighten into his height.

When it’s my turn I tell Eduardo the respect he showed a stranger made my day. He tells me as a teen he worked at a nursing home. “Only in housekeeping,” he says, “but the people living there treated me like family.” I tell him worked at such a place too, starting at age 13. In the few minutes it takes to pack my rumpled cloth bags, Eduardo explains he is far from his grandmother in Puerto Rico but hopes she finds respect everywhere. “We have much to learn from our oldest people,” he says.

Back in the parking lot the woman still swears into her phone, the man still waits, both cars running, and I hope they too are finding beauty here in the hours we have.

12 thoughts on “Contemplative Errands

  1.     This reminds me of the evolution of “Nature Shows” on TV. In the old days, they’d show a lion attacking its prey, but the prey would always get away, and they’d say something like “Well today, the lion doesn’t get to eat and the “antelope or whatever” has escaped to live its idyllic life etc. Nowadays, they show total gore and suffering. And if you want to read about the wise old owl in nature, be warned, they will tell you. The Great Horned Owl will crush the spine of a fox so that it is paralyzed and leave it in a tree so that it can eat it fresh and alive at its leisure.
        So, I suppose we should be grateful that people can be grossly unnatural in their kindness. A broken down house in the woods can be home to innocent struggle, or home to Owl-like serial killers.
        I wonder if it’s best not to anthropomorphize because Mother Nature brings us Small Pox and Bubonic Plague. And it’s shocking to realize that a top predator like the shark is necessary to control the number two predator because number two (like the Tuna, I think) will eat all of the smaller fish without end even if it leads to its own demise.
        It’s best not to be an animal even at the supermarket.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your observations, Doug. It brought to mind the show Wild Kingdom which aired when I was small. The older host, who paused regularly to praise the show’s sponsor, Mutual of Omaha, sat back while his younger assistant chased rhinos and tigers. I was often distressed, because it seemed to me this was scary for the animals. “It’s for science,” I was told. “They’re checking to make sure the animals are healthy” or “they need to attach a radio collar to learn more about them.” Years later I read that animals suffered and died to get footage for that show.

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  2. You have a talent (or perhaps a carefully-honed skill) for finding grace in graceless places. Thank you for showing it to us too. It’s rare I find beauty in standing in line at the supermarket. although your road there is spectacular and tickles my synaesthesic ear! Upper end of the woodwind section, I think… Oh, and it smells of coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I live in suburban Cleveland and can sometimes allow myself to settle into a similar state of being. It’s restful and rewarding to plant myself in the moment and take in the magnificence of the trees, or notice a young couple walking with their children or pass the odd house that makes me want to learn its story. And I light up when I can connect with a checkout person or another stranger, as one human being to another, and share a genuine laugh or even a story. These occasions remind me of how graced I am to be alive in this world.

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