the littlest anarchist

I have mentioned, I think, that dogs and kids like me. I understand the dog thing – I’m around them pretty much constantly, I speak their language as well as I can in this funny hominid body, and I can read theirs pretty well. It’s the kids I don’t understand. I’m not a Kid Person. I think of them much as I think of dogs, which is: this is a small critter with a limited vocabulary, no sense of impulse control, and can move like the damn wind when they have a mind to do it. I often pat them on the head, which is all their fault because they’re within head-patting range.

"You're really cute, but I have no idea what you're saying!"

“You’re really cute, but I have no idea what you’re saying!”

One of my Occupy friends, Pappy, decided to do me the world’s biggest favor by attacking my back yard with machete (I told you about Florida gardening and machetes), shovel, hedge loppers, and bare hands, turning the overgrown weedy jungle into a swathe smooth as a dog park. All I had to do was keep him company, keep Josie from being too much of a nuisance, and provide a lift to and from where he lives, a house full of people called the Anarchist Sweat Shop.

I am one hundred percent not making this up. They’re a bunch of activists and related ne’er-do-wells who protest, study, and garden. There are a few cats running about the place, tons of people, and I am told two Costa Rican tarantulas. They live off the grid as much as possible in a sizable city like this one, gleaning expired food at supermarkets, dumpster diving for stuff, growing tons of food of their own. They’re always working on projects, building stuff, growing stuff. It’s like one of my mother’s Back In The Day stories come to life, but with more spiders and internet, and she was tickled pink when I told her about them.

I don’t know these people very well because I’m me and nearly criminally awkward-shy, especially in a crowd, but the youngest one, little Kriz, has decided I’m good people, and since he is three years old I have no idea what to do with that.

HOW DO I FUNCTION AS A HUMAN BEING?

HOW DO I FUNCTION AS A HUMAN BEING?

This is where the funny story of yesterday starts: we rolled up in my car, I pulled halfway into the driveway, Pappy ran off to grab something for me, and little Kriz ran up to say hi. He then brought me a milk crate from a stack out front. (Inside my head: Dog brings ball. Kid brings crate. Okay, I get it, I think.) He handed me the crate and I took it to put it back on the stack, saying something about “hon, I don’t need that, but thank you.”

Somewhere during this little exchange, everyone else vanished. Oh hell.

I figured if I could distract the boy for a few minutes, somebody else would turn up eventually, and — see above re: Awkward and Shy, I wasn’t going to bring him inside because I pretty much need written invitations into other peoples’ space and that’d be Intruding — so I grabbed a seat on the milk crate to talk to Kriz. He tried to hoist himself up onto a stack of two next to me, failed, and then gave me this look like “You’re supposed to lift me up here.” So I did.

It occurred to me that introductions were probably in order, so I told him my name and asked for his. I held out my hand to shake it (I. AM. SO. AWKWARD. JESUS. CHRIST.) and he offered me his tiny hand, very solemnly, which he wrapped around two of my fingers.

“I had a sandwich,” he told me, and then he bounced off the crate stack like a flea and went straight for my car, which still sat idling with the driver’s door open, half in the driveway and half in the street.

“CAN I PLAY DRIVING?” he asked, halfway in.

I went through some very quick thoughts there. One: kids told not to do things they want to do often cry about it, and the only thing I know how to deal with less than a child is an upset one. Two: if my mother, my dogs, and my own self haven’t killed that car, a three-year-old boy probably can’t within the space of five minutes. And then three: I hope that’s all right with whoever’s minding him because he’s already in. “Lemme just turn it off,” I said, reaching in and pulling the keys out of the ignition, and redirecting him away from pulling the gearshift. “Go on, go drive.”

He couldn’t see over the steering column, so he knelt up on the seat, tugging the bottom of the wheel ineffectually – fortunately it locks when shut off – and then laid into the horn. He looked at me with an ear-to-ear grin and did it again.

This is when everyone reappeared, when my Awkward-Ass Stranger self had let their kid goof around inside her car, honking the horn, pulling the wheel, yanking every lever within reach.

To my surprise, nothing ended in calamity. We coaxed little Kriz out of my car — and he then told me that the window was up with such determination that I put it down, even though I’d be putting it right back up after, because the weather is broken and on the day after the Winter Solstice the high was eighty-five degrees. I got a hug and a crate full of veggies and snacks, and then was on my way — with my left blinker and the windshield wipers both going at a rapid clip, because levers must be pulled.

I don’t know how these things happen. I really don’t. Kids gravitate towards me and I do not understand because I am as maternal as a coral polyp. The last significant amount of time I spent with children of any age, I was that age too. I have no idea what to do around them. But they like me anyway. I don’t understand this at all.

a teacher and a friend

The old woman in the wheelchair was outside the front door of the building, slowly skittering the chair along with her feet, because old folks’ arms tend not to be strong, particularly ones who stay in places like this.

I asked her if she’d like a push, and she said okay if it was no trouble for me, not fully believing it. I said it wasn’t trouble at all, because it wasn’t. She sort of protested, and I playfully argued it off — “these things are easy to drive around, you just tell me where you’re headed!” Having a guide was nice, too. It turned out she was headed to the same floor I was, so I drove her to the elevator, turned her around inside it, and left her in the open area by the elevators on the second floor. “You’re going that way,” she said, “and I have to go this way. Thank you so much.”

“Okay,” I told her. “You have a good day, honey.” Because I am so Southern it hurts, sometimes.

That was no trouble at all for me. A hell of a lot of work, it seemed, for her. So why not offer to do it?

My mother’s in a place where they do physical rehab for the elderlies, because on the second-most recent hospital visit she fell and hit her head — the nurses at Memorial are idiots — and then at the most recent one, they suggested she do the physical therapy and rehab to improve her mobility, which could use improvement, and decrease the falling, which is what all this hospital business was about to begin with.

My friend John died last weekend; I wrote about him here before. I’ve been thinking a lot about John, or Thich which was his monk name, and the things I’ve learned from him. A lot more than I’d realized I learned, which is something he would have gotten a kick out of: whenever I think about a conversation we had, or something he taught me, it twists around and turns into something new. That’s so very like him; that’s how he was. He’d take an idea, turn it around, tilt it against the light, make it look like something different, and then ask how everyone else saw it.

What color is your mind?

I attended a memorial for him tonight, after I visited my mother; it was a haphazard combination of a memorial and poetry-slam night for Veterans For Peace at a coffeeshop I hadn’t visited in.. oh, a good ten years. I got to meet people I’ve gotten to know online, which was great. Lots of hugging. Activists like hugs. There were show tunes and spoken word and standup comedy; there were stories and remembrances and a slideshow video.

A Tibetan monk, who was here from Boston, told us about how he’d come to his understanding of loss through losing most of his friends and family to Chinese incarceration, then delivered a beautiful chant for the dead. A man with a group of traveling performers from Tennessee led us in a moment of silence, having us call out names of those gone or those alive who we felt we had parted badly from; several people called out names. I called one. A woman John had known led us all in an Indian folk song which is repeated four times; by the fourth, we all were singing along. It’s a powerful thing, though simple, to get a group of people all to do one thing together like singing or thinking or remembering or laughing. We had all of those things.

It was John’s sister Mary who nailed it though; she knew him best of all, though she had no idea how many lives he’d touched. When she went to inform everybody of what had happened, she took his phone and realized there were three-hundred-something names in there. She sent out texts; her phone rang nonstop for the week.

What she said stuck with me because it crystallized what I’d been thinking about him: that he was so kind, and so gentle, and so patient, that he always had time for anyone he met, regardless of color or gender or appearance or anything else, and if he could help, by teaching or feeding or listening, he would. And what she wanted us to do, to remember him, was to do those things: to help, to listen, to give, to people who need it.

The funny thing about that is, she could just as easily be talking about herself.

That is why, when I saw the old woman making her slow way to the door, I remembered my friend and I offered to help. Maybe I can only do small things, but hey, maybe I only need to do small things.

via wikimedia commonsThích Giác Ngộ, John William Missing, thank you for everything you gave me. I’ll miss you. I’m proud to call you a friend.