James and I had just pulled into our drive. Returning from an unexpected visit to a local hospital so to visit for the final time with a friend of 20 years was emotionally heavy. The lilacs near our home seemed to feel the mood of the day as the rain made them droop and sag. They are loaded this year with blooms, and being so densely packed makes them hang even lower today.
With the weight of headlines waking us this morning with photos of the 19 boys and girls shot to death in a Texas school my mood was already somber. Then a call alerting us to the placement of our friend on hospice forced our day into higher gear for what we knew needed to be done this afternoon. A visit to a hospital.
The lady we visited loved Elvis’ singing. I joked with her that if her music was not soon located and turned on in the room I could sing, but someone would need to move the chairs back as it takes room to swivel the hips. She smiled weakly, and I considered that a victory.
So as we arrived back home I felt sluggish, having only operated on one cup of coffee all day. As I turned up the sidewalk to our front door, I saw a blond-haired boy on a scooter, that seems to be the latest rage for boys about age 10.
A woman was with him and they were looking up into the tree and so I asked “What are you looking at?”
“Just wondering what bird is making those sounds,” the woman said.
“Cardinals”, I replied. “Hear the call and response?”, I added.
She remarked on the many birds to be sighted, and I told her of the catbirds and orioles that are also nesting in the area. But it was not until I spoke of eagles that fly low near the shore of Lake Monona that the boy looked more intently in my direction and then pushing one foot on his scooter made his way across the street, his mom at his side.
“They have huge wings,” he said and smiled at the idea. He had been reading lately about those birds of prey. We talked back and forth about their nests being up to the size of a mattress. It was agreed that sharing such a mattress was not a great idea.
His mom said they were visiting from Iceland, and the lad was homeschooled. His attentive eyes and kind smile made for an odd juxtaposition with the faces on the news from Texas I had looked at hours prior. In a convoluted fashion, so to address the issue without using any language that would be alarming for the boy, I asked her about how news coverage there would deal with the headlines of our country.
“Matter of factly, not sensationalized, but also with the question as to how this is allowed to continue,” she said.
She had grown up in Wisconsin but said very plainly that she would not allow her child to attend an American school at this time. “Just look at the statistics from the past 20 years”, she stated.
Had that kid not been looking up into the tree I would not have lobbed an inquiry across the street. Had he not found an interest in eagles from his reading he might not have pushed himself over to say hello on his scooter.
His mom said such conversations with strangers are not common on streets in Iceland, first often due to the weather, but the stoic nature of the residents makes for such interactions to be few and far between. I told her on snowy days with bitter winds while shoveling I still chat it up with anyone who comes along our way.
“I offer to let them shovel, but they all seem to have read Tom Sawyer”, I quipped.
She smiled, but Mark Twain had not yet left an impression on the boy.
As the rain picked up and we started to head in opposite directions I wished them well and pointed at the boy and said, “Thanks for being you.”
His youthful glee over the birds of the area, his smile, and his willingness to engage with the world was the mood lifter this day needed.
This type of interaction, off-the-cuff, so effortless, and free, is one of the themes of my latest book which is scheduled to be published by August. The tonic for the soul is often these very types of human connections. The book has been my focus since November, with the editing phase now underway.