“Perhaps our stories should stop on a dime, maybe things could begin and end right there, at the moment of laughter, but things don’t begin and end really, I suppose; they just keep on going.” -Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin
It’s Tuesday morning, June 7, 8:45 a.m., 40-something degrees. Kelli is getting ready for field day. She’s been stationed at the snack table. She’s wearing gloves, and not because she’s opening frozen fruit juice cup treats for her first class of kids who probably would be more interested in hot cocoa. She’s wearing winter gloves because it’s just plain cold. Nevertheless, icy fruit pops in a cup are what’s been given, so it’s what she will serve.
Around 11 a.m. it is starting to warm up a little. I’m on staff at the school with no scheduled place to be so I assume I’m helping with field day. I ask the P.E. teacher if she needs help somewhere. Relieved, she says yes we could use you at the parachute station. Unless someone shows up the kids will have to skip that one. I’m so glad to “save the day” that I forget I have no idea what to do and momentarily an entire class of kids will be standing in front of me. So, trying to recall every parachute experience I’ve ever had, I wing it. Every six minutes for the whole afternoon the whistle blows and I get a different group of kids. At some point, Kelli from the snack table joins me. We learn what works and doesn’t and by the end of the day I feel good n’ tired and like a professional parachute coach with very little voice left.
Three days later, Friday, the very last day of school, it would be in the 90s. When all the teachers would gather in front of the school to wave goodbye to the students onboard the “bus parade”, every last window in every bus would be lowered to keep kids cool on their last ride home of the year. Like Abraham’s Sarah, on Tuesday morning we would have laughed it off and said it was impossible.
What else would have seemed impossible that Tuesday morning is nine cyclists of the Chain Gang cycling club getting hit on North Westnedge in Kalamazoo, mowed down by a wreckless driver in a pickup truck later that day. Five riders perished, four were severely injured. No rider was left unscathed. It’s insane. This doesn’t happen. This is the second mass killing in Kalamazoo in four months.
That same day, Tuesday, June 7 was also the date of the last primaries, or at least the last of the ones that mattered for the Democratic party. It was Bernie Sanders’ last chance. Hillary Clinton needed only 28 delegates to “seal the deal” for her nomination. She won them handedly. A Sanders concession speech was expected, but never happened. He’s taking his campaign all the way to the convention now. Apparently he is going to make the case that he is in a better position to beat Donald Trump. But it is still a victory for Hillary Clinton, for American women. No woman has ever won enough delegates to be nominated by a major political party. This is sweet victory and a landmark day for women and girls. Even though part of me wishes it were another woman instead of Hillary, it is a giant high-heeled (or barefoot-Birkenstocked, depending on your feminist viewpoint) step in the right direction.
Wednesday and Thursday of that week were the last work days for myself and co-worker Claire. A couple of stay-at-home moms, we moonlighted as “paraprofessional educators” or basically one-on-one or small group tutors for the last three months of the year. Funded by a grant, we worked full-time with higher needs students, giving them academic support in literacy. Those last few days we were done with our “rounds” of classroom visitations, and we were expected to do odd jobs. We cleaned out, organized, whatever our supervisors or teachers could find for us to do. Together we salvaged a well-worn but still-needed instructional workbook, took student artwork down in the hallways, moved old curriculums from one storage place to another, alphabetized testing booklets. We were quite the duo. Claire has this understated and subtly amazing sense of humor. She’s always finding life’s little wonders, oddities and contradictions. Multiple times over those two days she had me crying with laughter. It’s been a long time since I laughed that hard.
On Thursday I had the idea that Claire and I should punch out early and walk to Nonla for dessert before coming back to pick up our kids after school. Since I’m a great third wheel, I asked her to invite her good friend Erica, who is also fabulous and fun. Each of us has two kids with the younger one just done with kindergarten. So we went and it was lovely, so lovely, to be just with lady friends at two in the afternoon eating pineapple bread pudding with mango sorbet. More laughing until I cried. I probably don’t get out enough is what this all really means.
At some point during the week the eggs of a finch nest in the front porch fern hatch. Their homely vulnerability tugs at my maternal heart strings. When one hears us talking, a silent beak instinctively reaches up for food. So sweet was the dainty nest with five eggs, creamy white flecked with brown. But now that they are born and we share an address I feel somehow responsible. In light of the week’s events, I don’t want this to go wrong. I want to see these little clumpy-feathered lives thrive. In a few weeks I want to see a successfully empty nest.
It was a week of incredible extremes–a swift, irregular, improbable pendulum swing of high and lows. Polarized worlds in a dangerous slurry.
That was the end of the week, so I should stop there. But it never stops. Sunday morning. Sunday, bloody Sunday in Orlando. I know I don’t have to say more. You know the terrifying story. So there is that and I’m thinking of it off and on as I drive up to Grand Rapids to see my cousin and lifelong friend, Autumn. She is in Michigan for a church convention. Most days we are three time zones apart. Today, however, we are within lunching distance. When I pick her up we both have our hair away from our face with dangly earrings and sunglasses, unpainted toes and seven year-old Chaco sandals. The only other person this happens with–showing up wearing similar things–is my sister. Being with Autumn has always been comfortable, cozy, joyful no matter how much time passes between visits. When I send a picture of us dining together at the Electric Cheetah my mom (whose sister is Autumn’s mom) says, “You have the same nose!” and “Thirty-six years ago you were bonding in New Mexico, now you’re bonding in the Midwest!” Oh, moms. Aren’t they adorable?
On Monday we know more about the victims of the shooting at the nightclub in Orlando. 49 dead. 52 injured. Anderson Cooper gets choked up saying the names and a short description of those who died. I’ve watched a lot of CNN, a lot of Anderson Cooper (there was Channel One, too, remember), and never have I seen him affected by a story like this.
And it just keeps coming. On Tuesday morning I see flies around the fern. I am afraid to look. That same day Lance Armstrong comes to Kalamazoo and joins 700 other somber cyclists to finish the ride started by the Chain Gang the previous Tuesday.
It is a great mystery the way the good and bad are interlocked, woven tight. Are they resisting or supporting one another? What is light if there is no dark? Do thorns have roses or do roses have thorns?
Maybe this is the hardest part of life. If the world were all evil, ugly, horrible, hateful or all good, beautiful, brilliant, loving it would be one thing. We would know what to expect. We could get used to anything. Instead we have a mad collision, a daily cocktail of everything, of nothing. Life is hopeful and kind and radiant and then in the same breath scary and vengeful and depraved. We feel dizzy and manic to experience all of this in such short succession or even simultaneously. Can we just catch our breath? There is just so much and it comes at us so quick and never quits.