I sat in the park that day in Atlanta awaiting a friend that I was meeting for lunch. The bench I picked was a new, slatted wood style that reminded me of an easy chair. I was in a position to see the panoramic view of the entire park. I delighted in the activities that surrounded me. The park was in a semicircle with the main neighborhood road to the front, and in the back of the park, large fir trees created a wall of privacy. People watching is like staring into a campsite fire—I was lost in thoughts…hypnotized. I felt like a child, newly born into the world with much to explore. The sun shined down on my smile. The spring warmth wrapped me; the slight coolness in the breeze was a source of pleasure.
The American Dream
I was laid back for a moment with my arms outstretched on the back of the bench, my head relaxed backward taking in a mediation of sounds. I opened my eyes again, and I saw a young boy playing tug-a-war with his dog using a T-shirt. My mind, now in creative mode, wondered what the woman, I assumed to be his mother, would think if she saw what I saw, but, she was reading a book laying on the grass next to the boy and the dog. Her furled brow gave no indication of awareness. He and the dog remained locked in battle for the time being. Curiosity instigated a continued scan of the park. I saw three girls on a blanket rubbing suntan oil on themselves and laughing. Their hand motions told a story, one I would not know. Their conversation was enthusiastic, and I watched as each one seemed more ready to talk than to listen to the others’ input. My watch snatched my attention away. My friend was late. I just smiled and sunk deeper into the bench.
Relaxing in The Sun
The sun was as bright as a welder’s flair, and the breeze brought just enough wind to slightly cool my exposed skin. It seemed that I was attending a play with a beautiful backdrop of some masterful painting by Claude Monet. I cared nothing of time. Peace commanded my soul. Then I saw her.
Everywhere I looked I saw laughing, playing, people engaged in conversations, and birds’ songs filled the spring air. In the midst of this seemingly perfect moment—a picture of humanity at its best, frozen in time—there was an odd object, an anomaly, something amiss. It was a bag lady.
My conscious mind flowed from the hypnotized study of a picturesque day to the possible harsh realities of this woman that was so out of place. But then, in my Zen-like state, I thought, “Why should she be out of place?” Why did I feel she was out of place? Was she not an example of the true reality of life? Had I not fallen prey to the self-serving American dream in this upscale neighborhood park? This woman wasn’t living the dream…or was she? At once I thought of Kyle, a bag boy at Kroger that was mentally challenged, who always had a smile on his face and a great attitude. I remember how I sometimes thought that he might actually have it better than me; I don’t always smile, feel happy, or show deep gratitude—maybe we “normies” are the ones out of place. Maybe we are the mentally challenged.
She Taught Me
I was rocketed back from my thoughts of Kyle to the present as I heard the woman talking to herself. She was getting closer as she pushed a cart filled with what I would suppose were her life’s belongings. She was carrying on quit a conversation. As she came closer I saw the deep lines in her cheeks and around her eyes—probably sun and weather exposure, I thought. Her hair was slightly greyed. Her eyes were so deep in her facial structure they looked black—endless. She had on a Parka coat in spite of the pleasant spring temperatures, an old pair of men’s pants that were way too big, and her shoes were an old pair of high-top, white Chuck Taylors. Her hair was like straw. She certainly hadn’t bathed lately. As I watched her carry on this meaningful talk with her invisible friend, again, I wondered who was sane and who was crazy. Who really had life all figured out? Hell, she didn’t seem—much like my friend Kyle—to have a care in the world. Me…I was a nervous wreck most of the time trying to stuff some new appointment into an already crammed schedule. As she passed I waved slightly and smiled. She looked at me, smiled, and then continued her mysterious conversation. She seemed to be on an important mission. One I could never understand. Judge not lest ye be judged, I thought.
Sometimes I wonder if the rat race is all it’s cracked up to be…