Posted by: MC | October 16, 2011

A Squirrel Story

Wednesday morning, October 5, I was filling time before my mom arrived at the Portland airport.  She was on a nonstop from ATL that had left at 3 a.m. Pacific Time.  She turned 77 in September.  That’s a long way on little sleep.  She’s my hero!

The real truth of the matter is, I had been a bit uber–intense (who me?) with getting the house clean and adorable enough for my mom to visit (not that it mattered one tiny bit to her), so a walk seemed a wise antidote.  I’d also been pretty chronically astonished at the moment finally arriving to signify the release of 100 Voices.  But, if you’re following this blog at all…you’ve heard more than enough about that (but I do hope you’ll check out the book!!).

I couldn’t know then that within 26 hours, my mom would be here and adjusted and we’d be off on the TriMet #12 to be part of the launch of Occupy Portland.  I couldn’t know that we would hear there the echoed calls for Americans to “Listen to each other.  Meet the people you’re standing near and anyone else you can.  We’re in this together and we have worthwhile things to say and to hear.”  I couldn’t know my mom would be lifting her arms high above her head to take photos of the signs, “Oh, Look at that one!” – or that she would be meeting Portlanders and upon their query about her homeland saying with a lilting voice and glittering eyes, “Well, where would you guess I’m from?”

So back to Wednesday morning.  I left the clean-enough house and headed for one of my many ashrams – green spaces and neighborhoods around our city that I have filled up with steps and breath and prayers over the years. LaurelhurstParkis a favorite – like walking into an Imagist painting every time, weather never withstanding.

I walked and watched as my whirling thoughts slowed to a gentle waltz.  Anticipation of the fast approaching book release events shifted from simulating hummingbird wings to appearing, passing and disappearing like chevrons ofCanadageese.  One step followed the next.  The trees stood regal as ever, the pond gave venue to mallards; the chicks of springtime now almost indistinguishable from their parents.

I came around a corner and up a slight rise to enter a stand of towering Douglas fir when the scene was suddenly split by a streak of brown hurling straight down from very high above.  “THWAP.”   Whatever it was slammed onto the asphalt.

Ok, so this is a bit of an odd story, and if you saw the video of the reading (EX:C blog 10-9-2011, “Video of this week’s book release event”), you know I tried to tell it there.  I can’t say exactly why I thought either then or now that anyone else might see or feel what I did in this instant, but, here is how it went.

There smashed onto the pathway only 10 feet in front of me was a Squirrel.  I don’t know if it miscalculated a leap or had a seizure, but it was for certain having a bit of a bad day.  I didn’t even go for the euphemism of ‘bad day’ at that point because as I watched the beautiful coat, splayed legs, and randomly blinding onyx eyes of this being, my call was that even urgent care wouldn’t stop the fleeing of life force following such a fall.  I found myself sending blessings for a peaceful passage into the universe of my thoughts and into whatever mysterious common ground I shared with the Squirrel right then – a stretch of asphalt, the air and the beating of seconds stretching to minutes – the two of us in eye contact until the Squirrel’s blinking stopped, its eyes wide and still.  “Rest easy,” I said and breathed out a bit.  Moments passed.  I felt unsure of what to do, oddly shocked by the whole series of events.  I noticed my attention returning to the “rest easy” wishes when, completely breaking with the script, the Squirrel’s body shook, its eyelids snapped to reignite the black fire in its eyes, it sprang to its feet and ran into the near underbrush and then up the trunk of another fir tree.  Not dead yet.

As I watched I found immediate in my thoughts the people of the 100 Voices.  I found the Tea Party and Occupy activists.  “We’re not dead yet.”

I can’t say if the hurling Squirrel actually taught me this.  I can’t ever really say how these seemingly random thoughts fall together in this awareness I know as my very own, but the take away from observing the Squirrel on the path in LaurelhurstParkwas a metaphor.  It was a metaphor for the people in a society named democracy who are finding themselves fed up with years of public leadership that does not deliver on the name.  The economic turn since 2008 has hurled us out of whatever lofty comfort we may have had – even if it was just the comfort of denial.  Slammed to the ground, we’ve spent some time in limbo, unsure if we were up to continuing on, unsure if continuing was even in the cards.  Now, we’re breaking with the script.  No more pretend democracy – we’re springing back to life.  We’re hurt and the extent of the damage and its disabling effects remains unclear, but resiliency and determination are ours.  Democracy is, after all, ours.  It surely appears that, by whatever approach, more and more citizens of our country are after the real deal and will settle for nothing less.

I know, this Squirrel story is sort of a stretch as metaphors go, but there was something weirdly trance-breaking about that small life hitting bottom and living to tell about it that focused my sense of recent shifts in the civic engagement of everyday Americans.  Sure, there’s plenty to be said, there’s plenty being said and said and said about the moment to moment drama of public dissent, be it Tea Party or Occupy activism.  But the bass note may in fact be the resilience of the actual democratic impulse – the rekindling of that irrepressible spark into signal fires of change, of reclamation.

We’re in it now.  Listening and speaking in very real change about what to reclaim, about what to make new – and about what endures.

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