Neighbors

I’m listening to a friend I like very much describe her neighbors’ extensive political signs — sizable banners and flags decorate this rural Vermont property. I’m tallying up my book purchase bills for my library when I suddenly pause, listening harder as my friend says she doesn’t think she can walk across the dirt road and be friendly anymore.

A variation of the conversation surface again at dinner, when my oldest says her Instagram posts have been criticized as not political enough, not making a vocal stand against injustice. We’re eating tomatoes and sweet onions my youngest picked from the garden.

Our conversation winds around to the late and great John Lewis, and I remind my daughter of the challenge Lewis posed:

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

My daughter, worn out from a long week at work, struggles — what am I supposed to do? Like anyone, she desires to walk the path of justice and goodness. Then she tells her sister and me the heartbreaking story she witnessed that day at work of a Black woman, white men, and fear. What could I have done? she asks me.

I don’t have the answer for her. Listening, I suddenly think, Fuck Instagram and our human — or perhaps American — compulsion to sum up the story of justice and injustice in a few brief sentences. My daughter leaves for a run, utterly dissatisfied and miserable.

I sympathize with my friend who didn’t want to cross that road to her neighbors’ porch again. I’m as guilty as anyone else of barricading my heart to those I don’t understand. But the world, surely, changes through compassion. There’s nothing glitzy or flashy about compassion — it’s messy and painful. But isn’t that the challenge?

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Photo by Gabriela S.

Hey? Where’d I Park the Honda?

Not far from our house, a few months ago the neighbors parked an old Honda, circa 1990s, right along the road beside their house, and after the last storm, the Honda completely disappeared in the snow. Between the roof shedding snow and the work of the town plows, only a massive snow bank remained.

This week, the upper edge of the car’s roof returned. I noticed a window in the backseat had been left unrolled, just an inch.

In a weird kind of way, I’m keeping my tabs on the Honda, just out of sheer curiosity or what my kids would call nosiness. I’m pretty darn sure I’m not the only one in the neighborhood who’s interested to see how this story evolves. What’s the plan?

This week, we’ve had a mighty snowfall, a full day of rain, freezing rain, miserable cold, t-shirt balminess. Yesterday morning, I worked at our sunny kitchen table all morning while the cats slept on chairs beside me; in the afternoon, snow squalls surrounded the kids walking home from school.

In our domestic life, we’ve tears, laughter, and rage.

Yesterday afternoon, while the 13-year-olds baked chocolate chip cookies, their snowy clothes hung up to dry, I walked in the blue-hued twilight. And there it was — millions of snowflakes falling, utterly silent, from an origin unknown, steadily going about the work and beauty of winter.

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And A Little More Snow — What?

Talking to my mother on the phone yesterday afternoon, I noticed through the window the heavy rain had bits of white. Snow? The white disappeared.

This morning, three inches of white spread over the porch and garden, the neighbors’ roofs and the cemetery stones and — yes — those little blue wildflowers whose names we haven’t yet determined.

I was barefoot and sweating in the garden on Saturday: Vermont.

Years ago, when I first moved to a steep backroad, I had the snow tires removed mid-April — how I regretted that. A neighbor cautioned me, like some strange commandment, Never take off your snow tires before May. Subconsciously, her advice must have rooted deeply. Maybe I should be grateful for her advice, but maybe the snow will melt this morning, too.

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