Thursday, August 13, 2009
Where to Focus - The Light Or the Dark?
Maybe it's because it's raining again. Maybe it's because my back still hurts after two weeks. Maybe it's a million worries that I try to address without going under, but I'm not in a very good frame of mind.
Our town has a farmer's market every week. It's a great little event that seems to bring everyone out from the hills to the center of town. There's live music, food, a few flea market-style booths and lots of kids and dogs. KB and I generally sit on a stone wall right near the entrance and watch the world go by. It's highly entertaining.
We generally speak to the same people every week: the neighbors, the little dynamo who is now head of the Chamber of Commerce, a loosely scattered sprinkling of musicians, some of whom you'd know and some of whom you wouldn't. This week was different.
Our town has more than its share of characters. It's an arts town and a famous one at that, so it's to be expected. Yesterday, that's who we found ourselves chatting with at the farmer's market.
There's the fiery, dramatic and passionate Dean, whose heart is as big as our mountains and whose dreams of acting fame, though sixty years old, are even bigger. I'll link to one of his performances below - I'm sure he'd be delighted if you saw it. He sat down with us and because he knows and loves everyone, we soon found ourselves talking to people we often see but never knew.
There's the old hippie couple in their bare feet and love beads. He's a fixture in town - always stands at the green flashing the peace sign to passing traffic and honking a horn a la Harpo Marx. He doesn't speak. But he does. We found that out a few months ago when he stopped to tell us we were "absolutely beautiful, man." Imagine our surprise.
This week we heard about his recent marriage to his "old lady", the winter he spent in his tent in her bedroom, the years he spent living beside the road.
"I'm a resident now," he proclaimed.
She nodded vigorously from her wildly decorated cart behind his bicycle, then they rolled off.
There's the sad-eyed, unkempt old man who lives down near the pizza place and only speaks in grunts. He used to be a lawyer. Dean knows his name, knows his story and fears he's going down the same path.
There was the sculptor, the filmmaker, the musician. They all stopped, they all were greeted by Dean with the enthusiasm generally reserved for long-lost friends.
They returned his greetings with a combination of fondness and caution, fearing getting caught in a conversation that could go far into the night.
I thoroughly enjoyed it all. I've always loved characters and I love to hear peoples' stories. When you scratch just a little, it's almost certain you'll find a fascinating story hidden under even the most ordinary-looking facade. And when you find that story, the person telling it lights up; suddenly the mask drops and you see who they really are, what they care about. That, to me, is connection. That's when I can believe in humanity.
But KB's had a harder life than I have and he's listened to a million stories from a million people. His affection for our species has been strained to breaking. Our encounters left him feeling discouraged.
He began wondering why we're so intent on focusing on people who are "making a difference", to quote Brian Williams. Why expend energy that could be used to hold a mirror to the ones who aren't? Why are we making a big deal about people who are simply behaving correctly, the way people should behave toward each other?
Why, he wondered, don't we simply nod at those people, acknowledge that they 'get it' and turn a spotlight on the ones doing it wrong - the people who put money before other people, who become corporate sharks, political monsters, idealogical dictators?
And the answer, for me, is I don't know. Perhaps I'm being a Pollyanna. It wouldn't be the first time. The sense that things are wrong is so huge, so overwhelming and so disheartening that I turn to the individuals, the stories, the people with good hearts and big stories to keep me going. And that, I know, will get a knee jerk "You're Right!" from many people. But really, am I?
I wonder if I'm just hiding under a blanket, afraid to poke my head out, turn on the flashlight and look under the bed. And if I found a monster, or maybe a lot of them, would shining a light just make it easier for them to find me?
Dean and Tennessee Williams