A woman bends close to gray concrete,
Watering the weeds that grow between the sidewalk
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
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
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
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
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,
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.