Monday, July 31, 2006

FLOWING ENDLESSLY LIKE A SILENT TEAR

Somehow I managed to go for a jog this morning. I usually just keep rolling over and rolling over until I’m late enough for work I end up brushing my teeth in the shower. Today I spontaneously swung my legs to the floor, stretched my arms out, yawned wide, blinked my eyes a number of times to lubricate the contact lenses I never take out, and swayed forward to stand. Yes, today I decided to start things off with a jog on the lakefront.

The first thing I noticed when I pushed through the revolving door downstairs was the heat. Seems the scientists are onto something here – it definitely feels hotter than normal these days. Here it was in the mid 80’s at 7am – and oppressively humid. Yes, temperatures have been fluctuating cyclically for millenia...but scientists say current trends are unprecedented in over 650,000 years according to measurable data on the global climate. But the oil lobby spends a lot of money and spins a lot of bullshit to keep doubt circulating in the mainstream media, so it's unlikely anyone will take these record highs seriously.

I loped down the steps and hopped into a slow trot, pushing play on my MP3 player and picking up the pace as the Dandy Warhols fired up Bohemian Like You.

I normally don’t think a whole lot when I’m jogging – it’s my Zen time. I like to clear my mind of everything and everyone and just jog. I usually concentrate on breathing, or the pressure of my soles beating the concrete over and over again. Sometimes I’ll stare at the lake, a shimmering sea of diamonds dancing below the early morning sun. Or I’ll follow the yellow line on the edge of the bike path like it's a rope pulling me to safety. But for some reason I wasn’t able to zone out today. I was noticing things.

The first thing I noticed was the trash. Everywhere I turned there were mounds of garbage - refuse people leave in the sand when they come to the beach. It actually disgusted me to think of the thousands of people enjoying the beach without throwing away their plastic cups, paper plates, and barbecue rib bones. Seagulls fluttered about noisily, pecking at the mess and shitting all over the sand where people would be spreading out their towels later in the afternoon. There ought to be a law against littering, I thought...before remembering that there ARE laws against littering. People just don’t care enough to obey them, and the result is a filthy public beach.

I noticed park district workers in jeans and work boots climbing off their trucks to begin a long day in the sun. I suddenly remembered back to when I worked for the park district, and later the highway department. We were always the first ones to work in the morning, our trucks and tractors rambling down paved park paths in search of a little shade. The whole day was spent mowing, weeding, painting, and cleaning up after people whose parents never taught them how. It was a thankless job that paid okay for a kid in college trying to scrape together some cash over the summer. These guys were clearly full-timers and I wondered how they made ends meet.

I noticed a woman hugging a massive tree. She was in her late fifties and wore purple sweats, a blue visor and broad black sunglasses. As I jogged past her I tried not to stare, but had to look to be sure she was actually doing what I thought she was doing. And she was. Her arms only made it half way around the cracked bark of this giant, with her cheek pressed lovingly against its side. This was no environmentalist, I thought. This was someone who had lost someone special…someone clinging to a past she refused let go, likely visiting a place she and a loved one had spent time together. I felt sad for her – but happy for the tree.

I noticed a homeless man slumped forward on a park bench in the shade. His head hung forward and he appeared to be sleeping. He’d positioned himself carefully in this manner to avoid being roused by officers on bike patrol. A bottle in a paper bag peered up at him from the ground between his feet – waiting for him to wake and welcome another hot day with a warm gulp of cheap poison.

I noticed the thick black discharge from the exhaust of a city bus and wondered how this kind of pollution was tolerated. The soot was so thick I thought I could see it fall and settle on nearby park benches. A rancid smell cloaked everyone and everything within 50 yards as it hissed and sputtered slowly down the street toward its next stop. This made me notice all of the other cars on the road and I thought of how each one was emitting similarly noxious fumes – most of which were just as harmful to the environment, only less visible.

I made the turn at Fullerton and jogged back home, my eyes to the path so I wouldn’t notice anything else. But it wasn’t long before I was looking around again. I noticed more trash, pollution, homelessness, and human suffering. People sleeping on the ground. Bottles, wrappers, and glass every ten feet. A soft gray haze oozing like a bubble of dirt around Chicago’s majestic skyline. A woman crying in a parked car. Here I was in one of the richest neighborhoods of one of the largest cities in one of the greatest nations in the history of civilization – and I felt surrounded by filth and misery.

Life has always been a struggle. From our earliest days, we've been fighting the elements, disease, pollution, poverty, and one another to make it. And those of us here today have made it. We are the result of thousands and thousands of years of people making it - somehow. But now we're making it a mess. A sting lyric buzzed into my head: "What good is a used up world and how can it be worth having?" In fact, my whole morning experience felt vaguely familiar, so when I got home I looked up the song:

All This Time

I looked out across the river today
I saw a city in the fog and an old church tower
Where the seagulls play
I saw the sad shire horses walking home
In the sodium light
I saw two priests on the ferry
October geese on a cold winter's night
And all this time, the river flowed
Endlessly to the sea.

Two priests came round our house tonight
One young, one old, to offer prayers for the dying
To serve the final rite
One to learn, one to teach
Which way the cold wind blows
Fussing and flapping in priestly black
Like a murder of crows

And all this time, the river flowed
Endlessly to the sea
If I had my way
I'd take a boat from the river and I'd bury the old man
I'd bury him at sea

Blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the earth
Better to be poor than a fat man in the eye of a needle
And as these words were spoken I swear I hear The old man laughing
'What good is a used up world, and how could it be worth having'

And all this time the river flowed
Endlessly like a silent tear
And all this time the river flowed
Father, if Jesus exists, then how come he never lived here.

The teacher told us, the Romans built this place
They built a wall and a temple, an edge of the empire Garrison town
They lived and they died, they prayed to their gods
But the stone gods did not make a sound
And their empire crumbled, 'til all that was left
Were the stones the workmen found

And all this time the river flowed
In the falling light of a northern sun
If I had my way I'd take a boat from the river
Men go crazy in congregations
But they only get better
One by one One by one...

****

There is truth in history. Feels like we have ignored it long enough.

1 comment:

Ben Franklin said...

sucks getting no comments, eh? for all you know, no-body has read this. or 700 people have. nobody was impressed by it, or 400 people drove home from work today looking with a new outrage and intensity at the old ride-it-hard-and-put-it-away-wet attitude we've been using on good ole mother earth. well, I read it. It was great. As I nearly most of your stuff. How is it that Bush is the representative of the world's third most populous nation? Electoral College and private sector opportunities notwithstanding, surely there's another Roosevelt (F-D, not Teh-D) out there...right?

I SEE YOU!