Places I Have Never Been and Why
Overheard at the Chico Target
“Fancy meeting you here! Bill, this is Jill, my coworker at the salon.”
“Hi, this is my husband Will.”
“I thought you were hiking in the Sierra Nevadas this weekend?”
“Uh…we meant to. Didn’t make it. Life got in the way. Hey, weren’t you headed to San Francisco this weekend?”
“Nah, didn’t quite make it either. We needed to do the full Target run.”
Despite the riches around us and our own best intentions, we so often end up settling in familiar places especially as we get a tad bit older. While I know many who eagerly reap the vast benefit of living in this lovely area with its incomparable surroundings, I’m afraid there are many – and I am one - who more often than not, end up at Schubert’s for ice cream after we buy our laundry detergent and toothpaste at Target and get panhandled at least once.
It was the little conversation with the panhandler this evening that got me thinking. He told me a woman like me should make sure a hungry man had something to eat, even though Chico has more resources for the hungry and homeless than any place I have ever lived or heard about. Running a non-profit myself, I am well familiar with them and many of the directors of those places. After I respectfully declined to give money but suggested these ever-ready resources, he replied with “Lady, you just don’t understand. I would give my last dollar to feed a hungry man.” He then walked over to a car with a man inside waiting for someone in a nearby store, where he was more successful in getting his dinner money. I suppose I might feel ashamed, and yet I struggle.
Contrary to what others think I perhaps “should” be feeling, these conversations are always difficult for me. They invariably make me wonder - what do I really understand about any of us who mean to go to or do one thing, and end up someplace else in our lives?
I thought about how many places we—me, the Target folks, the panhandler, could conceivably go, and the many choices we each had and have.
I tend to defer experiencing the raw beauty of this land, choosing instead to spend a lot of my personal hours on things like necessity shopping, working out, house cleaning, reading, and writing. I don’t feel cheated; I only wish I was more naturally driven to be Nature girl and had a lot more free time. And I wish able-bodied people would find ways to work, as many of the people we support in our agency do. Those folks with developmental disabilities don’t have the natural capabilities of the guy who wanted me to buy his dinner, but every day, they manage to work for their humble pay, and they feed themselves.
Ah, choices. Each person is a mystery, an entity unto his or her own self. It’s a challenge to get to know, determine motives, and discern meaning inside our own selves, much less those around us. This is where I think we all meet at a cross section of understanding after all: life never turns out exactly as planned, or even close. But it’s still okay, and we can feed ourselves if we really want to.
So, for those who wonder why I haven’t made it yet to Lake Almanor, or Old Town Sacramento, or the entirety of Bidwell Park (though I have made it a few times to Bidwell Perk) let me say this much.
Individuals are countries unto themselves. I’ve been able to visit so many of those, and have met such an incredibly great variety. I thank God literally every day for my experiences with people. I believe some of the indigenous Native American folks around here would understand what I really do not, considering my rich travel opportunities.
I have never forgotten these lines from the The English Patient, which so neatly sum up what I am trying to say:
“We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.
I wish for all this to be marked on by body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography - to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books...we are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience.”
And that, dear friends and family, is why my body, psyche and soul are marked as they are - and why so little of what you had to tell and to teach has been lost upon me, even if you can never imagine that you would have been so important to me in this life... here or there or anywhere we met.
Paris, I find, can wait.