I was in such a lousy mood yesterday. I was mean to co-workers, snarky with everyone, just really not the person to be around. My mood wasn’t helped by people not being able to see that I wasn’t my usual unruffle-able, peaceful self. Almost everyone laughed off my pronouncement that I was cross (yes, I said ‘cross’) … and then they’d back away looking all hurt and offended when they caught the sharper edge of my tongue. and I’m sorry for that, but I’m also not sorry. If I tell you I’m feeling sour and that you should steer clear and you insist on poking at me, trying to cajole me out of the funk you don’t really believe I’m in … Well, from where I’m standing, you get what you deserve.
Ok. Enough of that. Obviously, some of my mood persists. But not really though. That’s just the lingering sore spot from people never being able to tell (or accept) when I’m angry or cranky. I’m so often the zen-calm girl, people think that’s who I am all the time.
Besides, when I walked into class, all the sour drained away. If I needed any proof that teaching is the right work for me …
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This morning on my way to work, everything got slammed into perspective. The bus was having a hard time getting down the last block before my stop. The driver was honking and honking. The other passengers were getting vocally annoyed. And then we saw the hold-up: an over-sized SUV double-parked on the left … a group of police officers standing around a dead man on the sidewalk. I tried to tell myself the man was just injured, just unconscious, that the sheet over his torso and legs was about keeping him warm. Then an officer pulled up the sheet to cover the man’s head. No more question there.
I’ve been pretty lucky in my life, and — outside of funerals where it’s a given — I have never seen a dead person, certainly not a person caught in such a death, in that personal and private moment out in public. Yes, I’ve seen photographs, but I try to avoid those. There is something obscene in looking at photos of the dead. And, too, it’s incredibly disturbing for me, and the images stay with me much too long.
So I looked away … but I was the only person on the bus who did. Everyone else rushed to the windows to get a better look. I looked away from the man, but not from the people surrounding him. That was when I was able to move away from my shock at what we were seeing, and on to my It’s a Wonderful Life moment: the sudden rush of relief, of appreciation for my own life, of the fact that yesterday might have been miserable, but I’m still here today to do something different, to have a better day, to play with my cats and get ready for K’s wedding tomorrow. I’m here. What a lucky thing.
But then there was anger, too. That man was so vulnerable, his dignity stripped on some level, and that upset me. All the police officers were standing over him chatting, bored, not even looking at him, one of them chewing gum, on his cell phone. There was a young woman with a reporter’s notebook smiling up at the officers, tip-toeing over the body, getting one of the men to pull back the sheet so she could look at the dead man’s face. it felt ugly somehow, wrong. I know. They’re all just doing their jobs. What else do I expect them to do? I know. But still.
Who was that man? What happened to him that he would wind up there, on a pretty Park Slope Street, stretched across the sidewalk in front of someone’s stoop, dead? Was that his house he was in front of? Was someone waiting for him somewhere, expecting him to walk into a room across town only to get an awful call from the police? Why was it this morning? Why was it him lying there and not any one of us?