To thine own self be true.
It’s a snow day. There is no school. We are four people and two puppies in a warmish house. Soon another boy will join us and the noise level with magnify manifold and probably at some point I’ll have to yell at everybody, which will quiet things down briefly, but not for long.
I am camped out at the kitchen table. My laptop, a dozen books, a coffee mug, a pad of graph paper and a red pen. Also, an open newspaper from yesterday. Also, a board game, leftover from last night’s dinner. Also, papers from school I’m sure I should pay attention to. Also, a program from a concert T and I attended on Sunday. Also, a bag of cough drops.
The newspaper–I never buy a newspaper, but yesterday I did. I was standing in line waiting to pay for milk, wine, bread, and potato chips when I saw a familiar name and scanned the first few paragraphs of an article about a homeless man being asked to move his makeshift tent. I had to buy the paper. The man, I knew him 14 years ago. He and I worked together at a drop-in center for people struggling with mental illness. Back then, he had an apartment, a job, people over for tea once in a while, and high hopes. From the article, it seems he still has high hopes, though nothing else remains.
One morning, 14 years ago, I opened my desk drawer at work and discovered a baby blanket in a box. It was a gift from him, a congratulations for my just-barely-announced pregnancy. I still have the blanket. It’s high on a shelf with other blankets that have been marked as too special to upcycle into dog blankets.
The concert program–I am always so proud when I manage to wrangle my boys into being culture receptacles that I spend half the event beaming at the very fact that we’re there, somewhere, partaking of greatness, bearing witness to the arts. I’m so proud that I forget to actually enjoy the art. On Sunday, though, this didn’t happen. The wind ensemble opened with an emotional introduction from the conductor, who explained they’d lost one of their members, a young man, just about a month ago and this concert was for him. And there’s nothing like a tearful display to hone your attention. And the music was…passionate? Exuberant? A bizarre mix of sharp and soft? I don’t really speak music, so I can’t quite say, but it was remarkable. It kept me in tune.
At intermission, I overheard someone asking someone else the key to their success. Was it luck or hard work?
“Well,” the successful man answered. “Both, and also, it’s surrounding yourself with the right people. People who care deeply about the same things you care about, who are working as hard as you to achieve.”
And I think this is wonderful advice that maybe I have failed to follow. I’ve spent much of my life surrounded by people who are working to achieve armpit fart noises and the highest level of Shoot-Shoot-Bang-Bang Video Game VI. But, whatever. It works for me.
I don’t know what to do about the homeless man. I could give him money, a tent, a sleeping bag, a field in which to camp. But what I really want to give him is a time machine. Go back, I’d tell him. Or skip ahead. Your choice. But surround yourself with people who are working to achieve the same things: enough food, consistent warmth, a fully charged cell phone, peace.