The plaque says her name, but who is she? The park bench reveals that she was greatly cherished. Someone comes to this bench frequently and leaves mementoes of love. Tiny towers of pebbles are stacked on a nearby boulder to honor her. Small, smooth, silver, white, and brown stones are artfully placed on the weathered park bench to spell “I love you.” A bright yellow sunflower, framed by evergreen branches, is thoughtfully arranged, and carefully weighted with rocks to protect it from strong winds. The park bench with its brass plaque is a memorial to a woman departed. The way the bench is creatively tended, with such love and devotion, is the woman’s legacy.
The rain has returned. A gentle rhythm of plink, plink beats as the drops fall upon the slick, black material of my clothing. Swirls, rivulets and half moons of rainwater flow and reform as the water traverses under and around nature’s obstacles.
Puddles of water are filled with long, narrow, pink and gray earthworms flushed from their underground homes. Some are unmoving. Others inch along in single-minded fashion toward dry ground. I watch as one exceptionally long, tubular earthworm struggles next to a tiny pink, coiled form. Feeling like a benevolent giantess, I swallow my squeamishness and pluck the momma worm and her baby from sure disaster. I gently place them on a relatively dry part of the gray concrete path. I continue my walk down the shiny pavement studded with tiny reflective pools.
The rain falls harder now. I approach two Canadian geese. It is pairing off season and the muscular male is very alert and protective of its smaller partner, as she daintily pecks at the fresh, wet grass. The male barely tolerates my presence as I marvel at the tiny, glistening raindrops that teeter on his luxurious feathers. He moves aggressively toward me and fixes me with a tiny, angry, black eye and hisses “back off, lady.”
I cross a small bridge and watch the raindrops from the pewter sky land like small explosions into the stream. Each drop causes circular eruptions which merge into large Saturn-like rings. The watery teardrops drip from the trees, and glide into the creek like invading airmen in tiny parachutes.
A group of wild turkeys, clothed in blue, silver, and brown feathers with jaunty red wattles, run to and fro alongside a chain link fence worriedly looking for shelter. They appear to be oblivious to the small trees with welcoming arms just feet away from them.
The small details in my rainy day walk mirror bigger concepts: how quickly disaster can strike us and end our lives, or randomly save us; the visceral need to protect our loved ones from perceived harm; the chaotic nature of life which is maneuvered successfully by knowing how to land. Battered by worry and fear, we run to and fro, when peace is within.
I pause and stare at the dark sky as it weeps and continue on my way.
Exploring means taking a risk: risk of failing, looking like a fool, making mistakes. The alternative is staying put in our self-created “security.” Part of my journey is stepping out. Stepping out of routine, consistency, and the comfort of familiarity.
Last night, I stepped out and started a Journalism class at the U.C. Berkeley extension in San Francisco. New faces, new subject, new teacher. The class is small, no more than ten people. When I walked into the class, everyone had staked their territory in the rows of long tables with five chairs to each row. As each new student walked in, the seated students quickly looked up, glanced at the newcomer, and swiftly lowered their eyes. No greetings were exchanged.
The instructor, Mr. A., a white-haired, pleasant man of about 55, in a tan shirt and brown pants, greeted us warmly as he walked into the classroom at precisely 6:30 p.m. He asked why each of us was taking the class and what we wanted to achieve. He then asked us to interview a classmate to find out the answers to these questions.
I turned around to look at my closest classmate. He had dark hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and was dressed neatly in a white and blue striped shirt. He appeared nervous and shy. I engaged him in a conversation and he laughed quickly and easily at my attempts at humor. He was quite self-deprecating in his discussion of his own writing skills. I pegged him for a contracts lawyer. Wrong. W. is a graduate of the UCLA Film School and a playwright. The piece he wrote about me was elegant and precise.
I discovered that, in this small group of people, there was a fish market clerk, a Danish judge, a Chinese performance artist, an 18 year old who had interned with Rolling Stone magazine, and an active Air Force sergeant from Kentucky.
Stepping out last night resulted in benefits that I had not considered. Experiencing the diversity of this class and their very different backgrounds will most likely be more richly rewarding than learning journalistic principles.