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Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Day of Contrasts (Jan. 29, 2009)

Today was a day of contrasts. This morning it was cold enough for a hat and scarf, but 76 degrees by noon. Bikinis were on sale at Target today--after all, it’s January 29. Swimsuit season already. Weird.

At my local library I stood in the check out line, excited to have a new book. The peaceful hush was broken when a large man cursed and yelled at his girlfriend, who was trying to use the computer. In the parking lot, against a backdrop of green-leafed trees and an endless turquoise sky, he grabbed her shirt, continuing the fight, a beast amid beauty. The cops arrived and asked the two to step into the sunshine.

I took photos of pink-blossomed trees, before and after feeling depressed about the economy. I felt sorry for myself, since my small business has been silenced by our country’s financial struggles. Canopies of white flowers swayed overhead.

At the model railroad museum this afternoon I saw a family, the parents in their 30s, like me, with two kids. The dad was in an electric wheelchair. Beneath the short sleeve of his blue shirt, his left arm was gone. Their kids were a cheery-faced girl about three and a quiet boy of two, playing trains with my kids. My son needed to use the bathroom, and I hoped the family would still be there when I got back. They were in a different area, the wife ahead of her husband. I asked her (respectfully, I hoped) if he had been in Iraq. When she confirmed it, I asked would it be all right to thank him for his service. She said yes, that people thanked him regularly. I approached him, saying, “Excuse me. I asked your wife if you would mind if I thanked you. I know you went to Iraq. Thank you so much for what you’ve done for our country.” He smiled, his blue eyes and face genuinely happy. He thanked me, and I thanked him again, and we laughed a little as we said goodbye. If he hadn’t been missing his arm, would I have suspected that he’d been in war? You never want to say something insensitive when the intent is to be sensitive and appreciative. I took a chance in speaking up, and I’m glad I did. The family moved on, the girl giddily skipping and bouncing near her brother and mom, as the dad wheeled behind them. I was humbled. I’m still down about the economy and the challenges of my life, but it’s a good reminder to come face-to-face with those whose challenges are greater than mine. In a happy spot buzzing with moving trains, where one man’s legs lay motionless, I had a meaningful reality check.

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