Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Musings, 19 February 2011

Good morning,

The crisp blue of yesterday's sky yields to dull, mournful gray. As I made coffee this morning, I drew a sweater around my frame, then succumbed to temptation and kicked the furnace back into functionality. Its steady drone comforts me even before the warm air seeps into the room around me. I surrender to civilization. I am a creature of modern times.

As I crunch my cranberry-and-ginger cereal, with its organic claim to vitamin fortification, I muse over the morning news. I've dodged the union discussion so far -- pleading ignorance, demurring on account of overwork, shrugging off my heritage of civil disobedience born on an Austrian hillside when my great-grandfather shot off his own trigger finger to keep from serving in a war which seemed senseless to him. I read the LA Times article without judgment. I can see both sides.

An animated science-fiction film spews forth from the living room, where my soon-to-be stepson recovers from oral surgery with a healthy dollop of lemon sorbet and chipped ice. I'm doing nurse duty this morning, while his parental unit slams the innocent tennis ball around on a court and munches after-game bagels. There is a hum of liveliness in the house to which I am unaccustomed. I've had the morning air to myself for a long time; the change unsettles me a bit, though it is not without its pleasant undertones.

The newspaper heralds approaching spring. As I browse its wrinkled pages, I think of other springs, other beginnings, other fresh starts and new arrivals. The contemplation amuses me.

I've been on the far side of a rising creek, a river's width away from my vehicle and consigned to an extra few days on a mountain top. I've crossed that river in a borrowed boat, astride a splintered wooden seat, with the mild threat of the rising water swirling in tantalizing waves around us. Decades later, in the city, as spring reluctantly moves into the vacuum created by the melting snow of a record-setting blizzard, I need only close my eyes to feel again the passing wind, the brief kiss of the falling rain, the sharp delicious rise of fear just before the boat clears the rocks and pulls safely to the dock on the other side.

My week filled beyond the breaking point with poignant faces. A man whose children fell into the system while he stood helplessly behind prison bars. Another whose former spouse moved their children to an undisclosed location while he served in Iraq. A woman with the faint stamp of drug addiction evident in a nervous fidget, who gazed at me with eyes of deep, fluid brown in which her hope of regaining custody had drowned. I shut the computer down at four o'clock on Friday, slid the last of the week's mail on top of a collection of personal belongings, and closed the suite door on stale air, dimmed lights, and tidied files.

I threw my pile of scarves, and shoes, and jackets on the car seat and started the engine. On the way to the laboratory for my monthly tests, I dropped the letters in a mailbox, glancing briefly at two huddled figures sitting on a nearby church step. I saw their many layers of dirty clothing, and the crumbled brown bag that each clutched, and felt my eyelids flutter. Look away, I urged myself. You've had enough.

I parked in the handicapped space along the far side of the clinic wall. I passed a woman pushing a walker, intent on safely traversing the sidewalk and just barely clipping me with the edge of her over-sized handbag. Beneath the awning, a dejected, tousled man in green scrubs took long steady draws from a burning cigarette. I avoided his eyes and entered the building, taking the elevator to the first floor, and promptly getting lost in the underground maze of the complex.

With directions from a passing, friendly face, I found the lab in its new location. I entered, signed the log, and sat. Beside me, a woman texted on her cell phone, while her daughter meandered through a tattered picture book. The woman closed her phone, tucked it into her purse, and leaned towards the little girl. Together, they found the hidden objects on the book's pages, giggling, naming each one, chortling with each discovery.

After a few minutes, the woman turned to me and said, in a cheerful voice, I like your shoes. Surprised, I glanced down at my feet, instinctively tucked together at their customary, curious angle. Thanks, I replied, in a tone that seemed too skeptical. They are made in Israel. We both looked down, trying to figure out what that might mean. Neither of us spoke again.

But the child had noticed her interest and stood, suddenly, excitedly. Those shoes look like dancing shoes! she cried, and her little braids flew round her head, in a flutter of colorful plastic. Are you a dancer? I shook my own head, but she did not believe me, and asked me if I would dance for her. You dance, her mother said. Dance for the lady! And the little girl shed her coat into her mother's arms, and in a cloud of pink and glitter, twirled around the waiting room, on her tippy toes, with a bright shine in her eyes and a wide smile on her earnest little face.

And my heart was made light.

The little girl's name was called by a technician. Her dance halted; she curtsied, and then, placing her small hand in her mother's larger, bejeweled one, she stilled her little feet in their sparkly sneakers, and solemnly went through the door, where she no doubt bravely submitted to the needle's sting.

Another patient exited, and I hastened towards the door to hold it as her companion navigated her out of the lab in her wheelchair. Thank you, she whispered, laying one thin finger on my arm. I nodded, and sat. After a few minutes, I heard my own name, and seconds later, I sat in the technician's chair, waiting for the butterfly to penetrate the thin skin of my hand, as she chatted about her husband's latest tour of duty in Afghanistan.

And then, my week complete, I went home, feeling less discouraged, and perhaps, even somewhat hopeful. I navigated the streets of Kansas City with the warm recollection of that tiny dancer twirling around on the tile floor of the lab, with her shining eyes, and the world's most endearing smile.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.