Sunday was warm in the sunshine, chilly in the shade. So when I returned from the gym with the whole day ahead of me, I layered up and sought a place where the rays could wrap their tails around me and purr.
A park bench would be good if there weren’t so many trees. Too many trees, what a tragedy. A rooftop would be ideal, but I live on the ground floor in a modest building. Forgive me, a mere serf in this kingdom. So where can a girl catch some sunshine without walking to the Carolinas?
Well, I know it’s unconventional, but there’s this parking lot next to my building. It’s more of an abandoned field than a parking lot, but on Sundays the churchgoers drive in with their sedans and give purpose to this grassy plain. And being a Sunday, that made it a parking lot.
I’ve got a small beach chair that hibernates next to my washer and dryer for the winter, so I took her outside to stretch. Along with my laptop and a couple undercooked ideas, I sat down in the parking lot and just started typing, because, why not?
It had been a confusing week for a variety of reasons. I had spent the beginning of it in Spain, where I had a transformational experience and begun to rethink my entire concept of life, success, and how to be happy. I know that sounds dramatic, but I want to be honest with you. When you’re alone with your brain for an eight hour flight, digesting twelve days in paradise and inedible plane food, shit gets real. For a cold and logical robot, this is as close to romance as I get.
In the same week, I had also seen the worst in humanity. Watching the news unfold around the Boston Marathon bombing was surreal to watch from a Slingbox in Barcelona. Nothing made sense. Why am I here? I had qualified for Boston, but the race had already filled up by the time I got my BQ. Had I gained entry to the marathon, I wouldn’t have been in Spain at all. I would have been in Boston. So, round and round we go. The incalculable luck of a race over capacity. The serendipitous missed opportunity. I’m still trying to make sense of the paradox.
And though the little sunbeams made it hard to see my screen, I kept typing. So many disjointed things firing through my mind, I could barely keep track of them all. I felt like a chaperone on a kindergarten trip. Every time I pulled one screaming kid back into line, another one would have to go to the bathroom. It was worse than herding cats, and I hate cats. Cats are truly awful.
It was vacation, so I hadn’t been keeping track of time. Besides, it was six hours ahead, so I don’t know if the bombs went off when I was sunning myself on the beach in Barceloneta or eating the best tapas I’d had all trip. But the idea of feeling safety and happiness at the moment that evil attacked the innocent? While I don’t practice all the tenets of Catholicism, I sure know how to practice guilt. It made me sick.
My thoughts darted between overjoyed and deeply hurt. I typed about the gorgeous architecture and practicing my Spanish with benevolent cab drivers, bored shopkeepers, and anyone who would sell me jamón. Then suddenly I’d remember the two ignorant fucks who decided to play God, stealing the life and limbs from innocent people who celebrated tenacity, strength, and the triumph of the human body. The push-and-pull was exhausting.
I had my back to the street so I could face the sun, but every so often I’d hear a peep over my shoulder.
“Enjoy!” a woman said as she strolled past me. I hadn’t seen her approaching, and I was caught off-guard. I think my response was one of those awkward laughs, combined with something completely inarticulate like “Yeah too!” Whatever. She knew what I meant.
“Just enjoying the sunshine?” asked a man.
“Trying to soak up as much as I can!” I responded. He strolled onward, both of us smiling.
At this point, I realized that strangers were going to do this thing. This thing where they talk to other strangers. This crazy thing that happens when the season turns to spring, when the sun tells us it’s OK to take chances. When we leave the house without an umbrella and walk home in the rain. When we smile at people we don’t know because we just kind of felt like smiling, and they smile back because it’s time to thaw out.
I continued to jot down my distracted butterfly thoughts, coming and going with the breeze. I’d been chasing some ideas about how terrible humans are as a species and what a dickhead I am most of the time. But nothing concrete took shape. I was unfocused and undisciplined, not to mention impatient. I should go to a coffee shop, I thought. I’m wasting my time out here.
I explored some pretty obvious feelings of of misanthropy, which Wikipedia describes as ” the general hatred, mistrust or disdain of the human species or human nature. A misanthrope, or misanthropist is someone who holds such view or feeling.” But with each happy stranger, I started to warm up a bit.
And then I wrote a poem about guacamole. I’m not saying it was good, but it was something. It wasn’t even supposed to happen. It just fell out. When the muses talk to you, sometimes they say weird things.
As I counted my cadence and thought of words that rhymed with avocado, a thin but otherwise nondescript man approached me. “I couldn’t help but notice you,” he said. I assumed it’s because I was wearing orange socks with red sweatpants and carry a neon yellow bag. Or because I was the lone occupant of a Cadillac graveyard. Or maybe because that guy is a total creep. Right? I’m fashionably misanthropic, so that’s clearly on the table. But hold on, stay with me. There’s a moral in this story somewhere.
“You know,” he said. “Most people would see this run-down lot and think ‘what an eyesore.’ It takes a special mind to come out here and make it into something different.”
“As I try to put words on paper, let’s hope you’re right,” I said, brushing off the compliment.
“No, I mean it. I hope you don’t mind, I took a picture of you,” he said. And then, asking for my work email address, he sent it to me with the subject line “Photo of a visionary.” As if my ego needed any more stroking, right?
Go ahead and call him a creep. Go ahead and say he was trying to spit game. I’m choosing not to think that.
Because perhaps it is all in how we see it.
I’ve felt bipolar for the past week, trying to sort out the good from the bad. Trying to make sense of whether it’s OK to feel happy or ungrateful to feel sad. But maybe it’s not worth the hassle. I’m not saying ignorance is bliss; I don’t believe that. But maybe it’s too easy to focus on the shadows and miss the sunshine.
Perhaps the people running toward chaos are the ones I should observe, acknowledge, and admire. Perhaps the ones who turn terror into hope are the only ones worth noticing. The ones who smile at strangers. The ones who take a chance in telling you that you, sitting amidst the weeds and dandelions, might have a touch of inspiration. The unknowing strangers who put your faith right back together.
Humans. The best and the worst of all living things. We live and die together.