Pausefully Magazine

the online magazine about life as a creative process


 

The Sidewalk Cracks

By Connie Robillard

Art by Connie Robillard

 
     
 

A woman bends close to gray concrete,
Watering the weeds that grow between the sidewalk cracks.
Some would call her insane.

But she is witness to the life that bends,
Twists and grows determinedly
green in a gray, unwelcoming place.

She waters weeds between sidewalk cracks,
aiding, honoring, paying tribute to
the life of hope.


On the corner near my house, a determined looking woman stands on the side of the road. She holds a piece of poster-board close to her body. The hem of the woman's dress flutters in the breeze as it sweeps the gray concrete. I slow my car down to an idle just to read her sign. Her dark eyes meet mine; she smiles and holds up one hand to wave. I don't wave back, fore she is a stranger and all I want from her are the words on her sign.

"War is not healthy for flowers or children or any living thing."

What is she up to? I feel a level of distrust. Why would a woman spend this beautiful summer Saturday standing out here in the heat, when she could be on her way to the beach, like me. I open my car window wide to catch the flow of air and rays of breathless August sun.

The beach is crowded; nothing new. I find a patch of sand and lie on my blanket. Way out in the Atlantic Ocean a puff of smoke rises from a tiny island. The bang of a plane breaking the sound barrier pierces startles and grabs my attention. Sunbathers look at one another and return to their rest. I pour suntan oil into the palm of my hand, soothing my neck with what feels comforting.


A year or more passes, the woman and her sign are a daily presence on the same street corner.

It is 1964; Vietnam is in the headlines. High-school friends have been drafted and some have headed for Canada. So far, no one I know has come home in a flag-draped coffin.


It is autumn; yellow leaves fill my yard with crispness. Up the driveway walks a high school friend. I call to him; he looks up as strands of his sandy hair brush
his eye lashes. I barely recognize him as he moves through the leaves. He stops to look at me before stepping onto the porch. His bright blue eyes have lost their sparkle. He seems too serious for someone barely 21. Our old time chatter is painfully absent as we sit together on the front porch swing. His voice sounds faint and awkwardly distant.

I ask him, "What is it like in Vietnam?" He moves away from me, holds his head in his own hands. "You don't want to know. You do not want these images in your mind," he says. In the silence of my discomfort, I agree.

A month later I visit him in a psychiatric hospital. He looks at me blankly and tries to speak my name. His lips move and tremble in an effort to find the sound. Within our embrace I see the face of a small boy, who wants to bawl. I feel his body shake against mine. His silent tears run down my neck and burn before they disappear. I hold him until the sun has set. I leave him alone by a window staring into darkness. He is haunted by internal images that have no words.

Each day I drive to work and pass the woman with her sign.


Years pass. The woman remains, although the words on her sign change:

"Nuclear weapons are not healthy for flowers or children or any living thing."

The woman stands on the same corner, next to a business that makes guts for weapons of destruction, power plants and other things. A 'cutting edge' facility where the intelligent work hard and become rich.


The woman now stands with her husband; his long hair moving with the same air currents that ruffle her dress. They smile at me when I stop at the red light. I feel as if I know them now, I wave back.

Many times I read in the local newspaper that the couple is arrested for protesting. I hear from neighbors that the truth is they were assaulted, spit on, cursed, shoved, thrown to the ground and, when they stood up for themselves, they were arrested. Every Monday they are back on the same street corner, smiling at the passersby.

I grow so accustomed to the woman and man. I look for them; read their changing signs. New wars take on the same basic message. There are environmental warnings about the dumping of waste products, toxins, air pollution.

At times I feel annoyed with the woman. Her words prick at my conscience and threaten my sense of safety. I find myself avoiding her eyes. I wish she would go home, keep her opinions to herself, bake some cookies, plant some flowers, take a break, but no, she is stubborn, she stays.

There are moments when I mention my concerns to my family and neighbors. Each person I speak to has a differing opinion. "They are crazy…they're hippies…they are anti American, forget about them." A fear grows inside me that the couple is right. They are telling the truth and no one wants to listen.


Yesterday my son was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. "It's an epidemic," the doctor said. "Some companies dumped toxic waste in places where children played is one theory. There are many others but they all lead to one thing: pollution of the environment."

I want to scream. Instead I leave the hospital in silence. I feel crazy and shaken. I take a detour to look for the woman with the sign. I want to tell her she has been right all along. I wish I had listened or even joined her in her efforts. The corner where she stood is now empty. She probably disappeared years ago and I had forgotten to notice. I cry until I cannot see.


On this early morning, I write about the woman with the sign. I would take a sign to that corner if I did not need to be here at the hospital with my son. As soon as I think the words, I smile, knowing full well that I am telling myself a load of crap. Even if I were not here, I would not be standing on some corner with a sign. I am like all the other sheep, going gracefully to slaughter, lulled by some inner music that keeps the herd calm.

Give yourself a break, I say. There are just too many problems. I would not know what to write on my sign. There are not enough signs to say all that needs to be said.

I have to face my truth. I have foolishly waited for someone else, like that woman standing on a street corner with her signs, to make the difference.

What message did she bring? I am quick to answer my own question - Hope, she brought hope… It is not too late for hope.

 
     
     
 

Connie Robillard is a Certified and Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Connie and co-writer / clinician Marcel A. Duclos give trauma healing workshops. Their book, Common Threads – Stories Of Life After Trauma, has just been published. See website.

The poem at the top of this piece is from the book, Common Threads: Stories Of Life After Trauma. Its title is also The sidewalk cracks.

 
     

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