It had been a hard day.
One day last week I’d been working from home and struggling with how much there was to do, and how many things were falling apart (my car, my teeth, my finances). Worse than that, I hadn’t had time to just be and process all these things, because I had to just keep doing them. I was feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from my own heart and mind. Does anyone else find that unprocessed feelings build up and create a sense of chaos? I need to get them out, by writing, drawing, or just spending time thinking.
Finally, that evening, I closed my computer and my to do list, and went for a walk in the arboretum. It was a beautiful warm spring evening, with a perfect cool breeze. A stillness seemed to settle on the world, and on myself, as I walked up Peter’s Hill and down the other side, past Conifer Path, and around to where the short, twisted pear trees gave off an intriguing scent. And — the birds! There are so many birds in the arboretum. In Jamaica Plain I was used to seeing robins, sparrows, and the occasional cardinal. I know the songs of all of those. But here there were so many more, and they were singing out with the joy overtakes birds in the mornings and evenings. “…everything smiling in the sun, and the song-birds just going it!” as Huckleberry Finn said.
The birds’ clear song, the cool breeze rustling the trees, and the movement of my arms and legs began to clear my heart and my mind, and the stress of the day began to slowly sink through my feet into the ground. It was just what I needed. Another half hour or so, I thought, and I would be better, ready to go back home and re-engage with my life.
Then the birdsong was interrupted by the tinny sound of pop music coming over a cheap speaker. I looked up and realized I was gaining on a group of three girls, one of whom was holding up a smart phone blaring this unholy sound. They were walking slowly — I was gaining on them but by the time I passed them and got away from their music I would be almost home, and my chance to enjoy the peace of the evening would be ruined. I slowed down, debating whether to try to pass them or take a different route, and they glanced back and caught my eye.
I gave them a look, I’m afraid. I don’t know how it came across to them, but in my heart at that moment I was thinking, “I don’t want you here, you’re bothering me.” A grown-up look, a scolding look. And then, while still trying to decide where to walk, I began to notice things I hadn’t at first. The girl with the phone was lagging behind her two friends. She was overweight, and struggling with the slope of the hill. Her friends were encouraging her, calling her forward: “You can do it! Keep going!” She was holding the phone up in the air, the music helping her to keep putting one foot in front of the other. This was *her* evening, too — her triumph at getting out of the house, her healing walk. And I had given her a look.
I moved onto a side path, away from the music and away from my guilt. Hopefully they hadn’t noticed my look. I said a prayer for them, as I faded into the woods and their music faded away. And I said a prayer for myself for a better heart. Back amidst the trees and the birdsong I felt peaceful again. It is so much easier to love people when they are just a thought or a memory. So much harder to love when they are right in front of you. Next time, Lord, I prayed. Next time let me give an encouraging smile. Next time let me be as pure and joyful as the birds, who didn’t begrudge me my presence in their woods, who sang out just as joyfully and freely as if they had been alone. Next time let me see the girls’ beauty first, before I judge them. Next time let me love my neighbors as myself, even when they are playing pop music.