I had a migraine today. It made me feel humble. This morning at the grocery store, everybody looked vaguely familiar. Everyone looked like somebody else, as if the gene pool was smaller than on other days. Is that…? No. Is that…? No. Somehow that made me feel humble, too. All these people, each just out doing their shopping at noon on a Sunday. Gorgeous weather, not a cloud. Something about the day, the headache, Pearl squealing with delight at the little steering wheel in her red car shopping cart. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. Some days it’s all about the offensive; I have a relative who once told her kids, “Everybody is your enemy.” Teaching them not to trust, not to open. I want my children to learn the opposite message.
In Maine last week, Aviva & I were sitting on a bench in Kennebunkport watching other tourists go by, when an older woman sat down beside us and immediately commented on the color of Aviva’s eyes. “Aren’t you a beauty?” she asked. Later, V told me, “But you shouldn’t talk to strangers.” Clearly this is the party line kids learn, still. How to distinguish safe from unsafe? I told her that sometime it’s okay to talk to strangers. I tried to sound like a smart adult who knows the difference.
The vulnerability of being alive. Greg found a wasp’s nest under our deck; Juke, the dog, got stung a few days ago, and yesterday Greg got stung three or four times. So when we got home from our date last night, he went to battle. This was the offensive. Suited up in a hilarious get-up, thick swaths of duct tape around his wrists, ankles, waist and neck, he donned his net head-cover and headed out into the middle of the night. He took the nest down, trying hard not to disturb the cool, sleeping wasps. Carried it into the woods, where he deposited before returning home, victorious and sweaty. I untaped him and we went to bed. This is marriage. This is humans trying to co-exist with “pests” without simply destroying them. Today, the wasps are mad. They are swarming around the deck looking for their house, trying to decide whether to rebuild. Like us, like us.
I’m not quite sure what the connections here are; migraine, grocery store, the familiarity of strangers, fear and trust, wasps. But there is one. Something poignant, something that makes me feel like crying. A fragility, too, to the balance of things. And a little absurdity to round things out, my husband in his midnight wasp suit.
The headache has mostly subsided, though not completely, a distant rumble behind my left eye. Greg has gone running with Pearl and Juke. The day is humbling in its beauty. My kids are humbling. My health, home. Humble, humble pie.
Today I witnessed close-up the power of choice. Aviva said she wasn’t tired so we said she didn’t have to nap, told her she could quietly look at books in her room while the rest of us slept. She climbed up on the bed, hovered above the covers, her presence almost parental. She rubbed my back. She kissed Greg’s temples. Then she lay herself down and said, “Actually, I think I’ll sleep but just for five minutes.” No resistance, no cajoling, no struggle to get her down. She snuggled right in, asked me to rub her back, and went to sleep. She knew we didn’t have an agenda for her. She knew it was up to her. Stick that metaphor in your pipe and smoke it.
The grocery, the strangers, the vulnerability and porous nature of being seen, of seeing what’s familiar in each other, the choice of how to act, what to say, where to place our attention. Usually, at the checkout counter (unless I’m at the natural foods store, where the only options are pious and pure, like Yoga Journal and Mothering), I flip through a handful of celebrity gossip rags – US Weekly, People. Today, glancing at a headline or two, I felt a sadness. I do not want to read about Angie’s refusal to eat. I want us to leave Angie alone. She’s having a day, too. She’s working and raising kids and who knows what. People. Strangers. Benefit of the doubt. Humility. Humble.
I bought my groceries and rolled them out to the car. Pearl gnawed on a bagel bigger than her whole face. I unstrapped her from her little red car and lifted her sweet face to mine, taking in her smell. She held her cheek against my cheek. We stayed like that for a few minutes, simply quiet. I thought about how, a few days ago, while falling asleep at naptime, our faces pressed close together, Aviva whispered to me, “I will never run out of love. No one will.” She is four and three-quarters.
In Jewish tradition, Lashon Hara is commonly translated as “gossip.” Literally it means “The Bad Tongue.” Have you ever had that humbling experience of gossiping, even in the most benign way, and having the subject of your speech walk in the room? Or somehow learn that he or she caught wind of your words? I have. It feels like being kicked in the intestines. When we know better. So today I give everybody the benefit of the doubt. I talk to strangers. I keep to myself. I know everyone is having a day. I take this humility, this headache, these gorgeous kids, this sunshine. I mix it all together and refrain from judgment, assumption, attack. Bake it in the oven, put it in a pie. Each day is a life. Each life is a life. Humble pie, humble pie.