you have looked like a painting, even more than usual.
We are in the wind, planting the maples.
We meet an older man who seems to know
I miss my dad.
And he smiles through the limbs.
We talk easily with him
until the rain begins.
This is the brotherhood of man.
- 1st verse of "Brotherhood of Man" by The Innocence Mission
These are some events over the month that have me thinking of the brotherhood of man, and more specifically, of strangers.
- A jovial older gentleman in the Super 1 grocery store said to his shopping companions and to all within earshot, "Oh, I can't buy green bananas anymore. At my age I don't know if I'll still be around by the time they ripen."
- Garage sales in general are one of the most brotherhoodliest of all experiences to me. Sure, there can be some less than desirable price negotiating, but otherwise they're rad. There's a vulnerability in laying out all your crap for other people to see, right? Even if it's crap you're done with and that, somehow, no longer defines you. I bought for $5 a simple trunk to be our coffee table from a lady who'd used it to tote her possessions from one end of California to the other when she went to college. At the next house, I bought for $1 the most adorable little body suit in the world for our baby. It has a bum hatch that the mother whose baby had outgrown it made sure I'd seen. Nothing says humanity/we're-all-in-this-together like a bum hatch.
- I listened as Jason and Bill, a fellow Biology-lover and 70-year old Interpretive Ranger in the Park, had the following conversation about the Latin names of plants:
Bill: Gawd, I love names that just roll off the tongue like Vaccinium globulare.
Jason: and Erythronium gradiflorum
Bill: Pinus contorta and Epilobium angustifolium
Jason: Oh! You know they changed that last one to Chamerion angustifolium?
Bill: Yes, those buggars! Can you believe it?! I was heartsick!
- I saw a young gal on the side of the road, cigarette in hand, eyes red from a long night, or crying, or both. One of us was disheveled of clothing and crumpled of spirit, and the other had an open vehicle and an open day. We found ourselves traveling together to a nearby town, talking of our enjoyment of camping and also of common bygone experiences in the state of Arizona. It's tough to say which was the helper and which was the helpee. We all need the chance to be in each role, to be co-habitators of an experience. Maybe the problems come when we find ourselves always in one role or the other. I wonder if this is a bit of what the apostle Paul meant when he talked of becoming all things to all men. On this journey of aiding one another toward wholeness, of spurring each other on toward love and good works, we have to be willing to assume the role that both parties need at that moment. As badly as she needed a ride, I needed to embrace someone from outside of my tiny world.
- A young highway patrolman was killed while in pursuit of someone not far from the Park. A man and woman in another vehicle were also killed, so that the only one who lived was the unknown fleeing driver who had caused the two cars to collide. Since my dad does chaplaincy work with the Whitefish Police Department, he was at the patrolman’s funeral, and that night around the supper table recounted his experience. What seems to have touched him the most was simply the presence of nearly 1,000 law enforcement officials from multiple agencies and all of the surrounding states, as well as the Canadian Mounted Police. It was such a show of camaraderie in the face of apparent meaningless tragedy - to his widow, to his parents and comrades, to each other.
At the end of the graveside service, which immediately followed the funeral, everyone turned up their handheld radios. Across the waves came a dispatcher’s voice:
“Status Check, Zero Three One.”
“Status Check, Zero Three One.”
“Zero Three One, you are released from duty. Go now to your Heavenly Father.”
And my dad could hardly get through the telling of it. Why go through that ritual, I ask? Why call forth a dead man on the radio, knowing full well he ain’t answering? For the sake of the living, to be sure - both those who had and hadn’t previously heard the live, appropriate response to Zero Three One’s status check. But what does it do for us? Maybe nothing more than serve as a tangible way to acknowledge in each others’ presence the sense of loss at hearing no response. To listen together to the gap, the empty air space when one of us goes.