14 May 2010

Life's many blessings, and how easily they are forgotten

The Ford pick-up's driver couldn't make up his mind, and obviously didn't see me behind him in the adjacent lane. The F-150's bulk began to drift closer as we both pulled up to the stoplight. At the last second, he realized the error, and corrected course. By this point, with eight hours of work and three hours of class under my belt for the day, I was too exhausted to really care.

I've been taking a class on business communications at the University of St. Thomas' Minneapolis campus. While it has been helpful (reminding me that I went into journalism for a reason), the three-hour classes preceding Friday deadline days are wearing me down. There are two more sessions left, and I will be glad to have Thursdays back soon.

When the latest class on creativity ended, I grabbed my stuff and practically RAN to the car. My mind drifted as I slowly wound the Sunfire down a set of narrow ramps leading me to the exit of the Spartan concrete parking garage. I paid for my time, and took a right onto the now traffic-free downtown street. The F-150 and I got acquainted, and I sat at the red light, feeling my eyes glaze over in the LED glare.

While we were waiting, I saw some shadows moving out of the corner of my vision. It was a man carrying a duffel bag, and two boys (twins?), who looked about three or four years old. It was 9:30 on a Thursday night; what were they doing out on the streets so late? My eyes traveled back to the father, and then to the small duffel bag in his right hand.

Oh.

Homeless?

It was easy to imagine that they were headed towards some sort of shelter. If the kids were concerned, they didn't seem to show it in their body language, following their father in the sort of trusting way that kids do. The father had his head down as he purposefully strode down the street and into the darkness, each brisk step taking him past the school edifice that I'd unappreciatively come from.

Comparisons made me feel silly. Here I was in nice clothes, in a decent car, on my way home to a beautiful wife and daughter in a quiet neighborhood. How dare I complain about having a long day?

I kept driving south, making my way over to Interstate 35W. One of the last sights that greeted me on the way was a Native American woman sitting on the sidewalk talking to a police officer. She was crying, and the officer had his hands on his hips. As I accelerated onto the freeway, the last thing I caught in the rearview mirror was a glimpse of her tangled mess of hair, bathed in the red and blue lights of the squad car.

Accelerating and merging, my mind drifted: "Should I delete my Facebook account? That blog I read sure make some good points. What the hell was with those two guys in class tonight? Why are they so rude? Am I hungry? I wish I was riding my motorcycle."

All of a sudden, I felt ashamed that I'd already forgotten what had so genuinely moved me mere minutes earlier. How was it that I could see something, feel it and internalize it, but find a way to reconcile it and move on to minutia again? What happened to the sincerely thankful prayers that I wasn't in this guy's shoes? Had they meant nothing?

When I got home, my daughter was in her crib, crying from the pain of the new teeth slowly making their way through her gums. I gave her some Tylenol, and took her in my arms. As we sat in the darkness, she fell asleep again as I rocked her back and forth in the white leather glider chair. She was lucky, I realized, to sleep in the same place every night. And so was I.

Why is it so hard to keep that in perspective?

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