The Strangest Kind of Strangers on a Train

The old tale of complete strangers meeting in transit, discovering they have identical problems, and “solving” the problems by trading crimes to eliminate the people they see as the root of their unhappiness, makes for a striking mystery drama, in fiction. Ask Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock fans! But I was reminded recently that we give too little credit to our commonalities as a positive solution to our problems, and end up missing crucial opportunities as a result.

The filmic version takes as its thesis that the two strangers who meet can find not other, or at least no better, solution to the problem of having bad relationships with inconveniently incompatible people than to murder them, and by ‘exchanging’ murders with each other they hope to escape detection by each having no apparent connection to, or a motive for killing, the other’s nemesis.

While this makes for startling and even compelling imagined mystery, it’s horrific if imagined in real terms. Yet we do similar things all the time in this world, don’t we? Because I tend to agree with a particular point of view in general, say, a specific philosophy or political party’s policies, or my country’s traditions, does that mean it’s wise or humane or practical or generous to follow along without question, no matter what my group, party or nation says and does? We mortals are remarkably good at noticing and magnifying our differences, as genuine and large as they may be. But we’re frighteningly weak, in opposing measure, when it comes to recognizing, focusing on, and building upon our true kinship. This, I believe, easily outweighs in both quantity and importance, our separating characteristics. Digital illustration from a photo: Opening Doors

The recent train outing in Sweden that reminded me so pointedly of this also confirmed my belief that it’s an area where youth is wiser than experience. In a railcar where a young father, not a local or a native speaker of the language, was keeping his fifteen-month-old daughter occupied and contented during the trip by helping her practice her tipsy walking, she made her way with his help to where another family, also foreign but not of the same culture as father and daughter, was sitting together. That group was of two adult sisters and their four or five school-age children. The toddler was naturally attracted to the friendly and spirited older children, and as soon as they saw her, they too were enchanted. What followed was perhaps twenty minutes of delighted interaction between them all, with occasional balance aid from Papa and photo-taking by the Mamas. And barely a word was spoken, much less understood by any of the participants, during the entire episode.

The greatest among the many beauties of this endearing one-act was that the conversation essentially began, continued and ended with the kids reaching toward one another with open hands, waving and gesturing and generally putting on an elaborate pantomime together, and above all, giggling and chortling with peals and squeals of ecstatic laughter.

Needless to say, all of us adults in the railcar grinned, giggled, chortled and otherwise became happy kids right along with them. Resistance was an impossibility and a pointless attempt, at that. And isn’t that an excellent lesson for all? Adults are too busy being territorial and fearful and downright feral to remember that the open hand of welcome and sharing is as quickly reciprocated as any gesture, and a smile of greeting and acceptance is contagious beyond any language, age, or cultural barriers. We can nurse our terrors of the unknown as supposed adults, or we can choose to laugh together like children.Digital illustration from a photo: As If in a Mirror

Super Chicken

mixed media artworkMy superpower, if I could be said to have any, is being supremely ordinary. Yeah, I’m really, really good at that. Now, you may think it’s not impressive that I’m good at being so-so, and you could be forgiven for thinking it. And yet . . .

Besides that it requires massive numbers of us mid-range sorts to keep nature in a sort of balance with the various human outliers at the top (and bottom) of the spectrum, there’s also the comfort and safety of being able to travel under the radar of scrutiny and pressure to which both kinds of exceptional people are exposed.

What on earth does this mean I am good at doing, at being? Why, I do what’s expected. I go to sleep; I wake up. I eat and I walk and I get dressed and undressed, and the world carries right on around me. And though I don’t at the moment have employment outside of our home, my current occupation being Homemaker, I spend myself and my efforts, rather, on doing the small and yet significant things that might not be essential to keeping the world operational but grease the gears, instead. And keeping the cogs working relatively smoothly is as useful in its own way as being the driver, the engineer or a cog myself. I go to meetings and do Projects, too, to be sure, but mostly what I do nowadays is fix a meal, repair a door-jamb, ferry my spouse and a student to a rehearsal. I do laundry; I prune the plantings near the window. Glamorous? Just exactly enough.

Because the luster of the day comes not from being admired and lauded but from being appreciated, even if it’s hardly necessary to hear that announced constantly–after all, the proof of its value is in plain view if the needful things get done. Any reward lies in the belief that I make life that one tiny iota smoother and pleasanter for that one brief instant, even if only for this one other person. It’s borne on the smile of relief worn by him whose sheaf of office paperwork got filed at last when he couldn’t get to it himself, or whose old slippers have been mended by the time he gets home from the office at the end of the day. It’s in the neighbor being glad to have the excess garden supplies or box of art materials I’ve collected to send to school with her. It’s with me when I arrange the chairs alongside the singers before a rehearsal when I come by to listen to their work. It’s mostly in knowing that the stuff needed to keep quotidian action on course is being looked after, bit by little bit. And that I’m the person for the job.

I don’t do this selflessly, of course, because I would hardly keep it up for long if it weren’t so simply and inherently rewarding. And it certainly bespeaks no genius or courage on my part that I do it, for clearly it takes greater skill and ingenuity and bravery to do all of the shiny, showy things for which I provide my atoms of encouragement from the periphery. Maybe a jot of courage only to admit to being a homemaker and loving it. So many who haven’t the privilege of the life seem to disdain it and misconstrue its meaning, especially if it doesn’t have either children or wealth as part of the equation. I am far more fearful of having no sense of purpose than of being thought unimportant by anyone else; I care more about feeling my own worth than having it validated by any outside agents.

So if I seem to anyone to be afraid of taking a larger role in the Real World as they see it, I suppose I ought to admit that in one sense I am. I know that having this Job for a few years has given me new strength and the ability to go out in the wider world for a so-called Real one again when the time comes, yet I do dread leaving this role that has given me a feeling of vocation more than anything else I’ve ever done and risking the dimming of any of the self-worth I’ve garnered or the value I’ve learned to impute to the tasks of being normal and simple and everyday, which I’ve learned to see as so much deeper and richer than they’d seemed until I tried on the role of their custodian myself. I do, at the end of it, think that if I’m a dull, bland or unimportant grease-monkey to the cogs of the world, I’m a damn good one, and if I’m scared of giving up that high honor, then I at least credit myself with being a superior variety of chicken.

Getting Singed

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Is it my imagination, or is it a little bit hot in here???

Femme Fatale

Barbara is standing by to cut my scruffy hair:

but, say–doesn’t that look a bit like an electric chair?

Look at that pair of scissors–oh, boy howdy, are they sharp!

Will my coiffure just leave me playing sad songs on the harp?

I’d say it’s mighty hot in here–a preview glimpse of Hell,

Or maybe just a purgatory-hint, that hairspray smell–

I’m not so absolutely sure that something here is wrong;

and yet, what’s so darned horrible in leaving hair this long?

Is it sheer paranoia and delusion of myself–

Hey! What’s that creepy science stuff in tubes up on the shelf?

I’m getting awfully shaggy, yes, it’s true–but not a Nut!

(I merely hope it’s nothing but my hair that will get cut!)

Oh, Barbara, I am nervous, so please, kindly, Dear, refrain

from trimming quite so near my throbbing jugular, poor vein.

And if you have to croak me (does this happen very often?),

at least make sure I’m wearing stylish hair there in my coffin.

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One way or another, I’ll be a hot number when I come out of here.

You’re Not Afraid? You *will be*!

digital collage

The Jitters

Remember the years when we were young

And captive among our babysitters?

Sheer terror would reign with its horrid thrill,

The unspeakable chill we would call the Jitters.

Under the bed or under the house,

A mouse isn’t safe when the Jitters gleam

Reptilian fangs and rhinoceros horns;

O! The scorns we would risk to release a scream!

Anything dark and anywhere doored

Could harbor a horde of Jittery creeps;

They hide under blankets and lurk behind stones:

The wrack in the bones that never sleeps.

Do I hear the wind? Did you hear an owl?

Or was it the howl of the restless dead?

The moan of a sailor just as he drowned?

All around are the sounds of the things we dread.

That flickering light! The curtains a-moving,

And both of them proving that something is near:

We’d writhe in our agonies, plagued by deceptions

And all the perceptions of what we fear.

This, you remember, was life with the Unknown,

And all of the fun known as children was moot

Whenever night fell or a stranger came calling;

Appalling how it never stopped its pursuit.

Now deep in adulthood, responsible, sane,

We scoff at the pain of those gibbers and twitters,

Yet get us alone, in a vulnerable state,

And sooner or late, we succumb to the Jitters.digital collage + text

Endless Falling

A whisper in the gloaming just pre-dawn
A shiver or a prickling on the neck
A flutter of the eyelid, quick, then gone
And hope of any sleep is now a wreck

Above me in the dark are broken dreams
Above my brow an icicle of fear
Above the awful emptiness, the screams
In silent agony are all I hear

And under all this brittle disarray
And under skin and in the bone and soul
And under some enchantment, night and day
I know this wickedness will eat me whole

Against the dangers present in this fright
Against the door of Death I’ll knock tonight