So sad and beautiful

Speeding toward the ground
Through the air without a sound
So gracefully

Each one in awe, for they’d never seen a girl so sad and beautiful

– Pedro the Lion ‘June 18, 1976’

My neighbourhood shifts noticeably in spring. Through fall and winter everyone has the same destinations and schedules but we are all hurried moving from warmth to warmth in a cold world. In spring it seems that the neighbourhood grows. Children in particular appear to multiply through the slower commutes to and from school. Now they talk and laugh and tease meandering the sidewalks and lingering at bus stops. My walk to work takes me through the paths of numerous school children. In the past few days I have found myself feeling almost unbearably sad walking through these scenes. I have witnessed nothing to be sad about. They are beautiful. There is a boy who is probably around 12. He is large, not quite obese, just large framed and slow moving. There is nothing that commends him by the world’s standards but neither is he dirty or in worn out clothing just poorly styled in nearly every respect. Wide straight jeans, large t-shirt, short uniform hair, fuzzy hair on his upper lip. In the past two days my timing has been such that I watch him walk out his door on his way to school. By the gate to the sidewalk he turns and looks back to his mother or grandmother and offers a huge smile and vigorous wave.

This morning there was a car accident at the corner of my street. I took a little longer slowly walking by and then when I turned to go up Toronto St and little girl quickly left her house and caught her stride alongside me and asked what happened. We had never met. I felt awkward and unsure what protocol was for such an occasion. We fell into conversation and walked for a block as she was going to meet a friend who she walks to school with. She was in grade four, curious, good-natured and a good conversationalist (did I mention I was a stranger). She liked recess and gym, school was going well for her. As quickly as came alongside of me she crossed over the street to meet her friend. I wished her a good day and as she faded away she said, ‘Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.’

After walking on for a while I started to cry, just for a bit. I treasured these images. But where did the sadness come from? It was my speculation. I speculated about their place and future in this world. I considered how the world might value and use them. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this was all just my own arrogance. But these images have added to many, many others that lead me to believe that beauty is something plus vulnerability. I don’t know what the something is but I know the vulnerability. If we value beauty we must also at some point reject the world.

This led me to think of the church. I have been highly critical of the church. Increasingly my only real concern is whether the church can be a place of rest, refuge, and resistance to the evaluation of the world. That is all that really matters. I find I have much more grace for the church but this only comes with an increased sense of complete intolerance for vipers who may reside within. The only course of action there is strike at the neck or crush with the heel.

A neighbourhood shrine

Imagine cute kitten with caption 'hang in there'.
Imagine a cute kitten with the caption ‘hang in there’.

I walk by this house twice a day. I will hopefully try to layer the description to give some minimal sense of what is happening here.

The fence is rotted with many pickets missing. It cannot stand up on its own.
The fence is secured by what literally looks like a frayed shoestring that has been knotted a few times in the middle due to tears.
The shoestring is tied to a tree that is dead and cracked down the middle.

This would be sheer comedy or pure metaphor if not for the fact that it is actually someone’s fence. This is someone’s boundary marker. This is the extent of their strength in being able to secure a sense of stable self in relation to external forces.

I am often critical of ‘fences’ because of how much more easily and effectively the wealthy and powerful are able to manipulate them. But this is all the more reason to be attentive to what sort of boundaries the more vulnerable are able (or not) to maintain. And of course even here this is in the context of someone who is able to rent or own a home and so already the type of boundary is radically different from the material transience or instability that many others experience.

Walking past this place daily I find its affective presence just as striking. As I mentioned earlier this really is comic. This image presses to the extremes the definition of what a fence is. This is a boundary marker that cannot stand alone. This is a symbol of protection and safety secured by a shoestring. This is a house of cards.

In some ways it is surprising that no one (or perhaps this is where the knots came from) has simply grabbed the fence in passing and yanked on it to snap the string; to end the farce. I am guessing there is some sympathy for this fence. I wonder if people find themselves in this scene and give the fence its due respect.