Tuesday, July 22, 2008
This Is Such A Great City To Live In
This is such a great city to live in.
That was the thought that went through my mind as I sat overlooking the little street below. There was nothing particular about the street that put that thought there. I think it was just a sense of belonging.
It was not a main street but a common side street like so many others that one can find throughout the city. It was narrow with cars parked on both sides, all facing the same direction, giving it a crowded feeling. The buildings that formed a solid wall on either side of the street were no more than two stories in height. Looking at it with these buildings as walls of stone it put me in mind of that time I canoed down a narrow gorge. Not necessarily the best of times.
I enjoyed my vantage point, overlooking the scene below from the second floor restaurant. There is something renewing in the observation of simple city life; a Coke cup on a basement window sill; the coming and going of delivery trucks; a pedestrian off to some appointment; people waiting for the bus; a cyclist stopping at the store for water; a mother pushing a stroller; a stray cat.
Out of all the buildings on that little street there was a grey one opposite me and down a bit that had caught my eye. It was grey because that is what colour the owner had chosen to paint the brick. I surmised it was an attempt to hide the true condition of the bricks beneath but some of them possessed a rebellious nature, losing their facing, exposing their true colour to the critical eye of the world. It looked not unlike wounds on a body, revealing the flow of the red blood within.
The building was not in great condition. The windows needed work. The stairs to the raised front door desperately needed replacing. The balconies above had a sagging look to them. Overall the building had a tired, warn-out feel to it, as if it had existed one decade longer than it should have. It was different from all the other buildings, having a third floor in the form of an attic apartment. Every other building on this street had only two floors. I noticed the attic to the condition of the slanted roof. The shingles were in awful condition and I wondered how much water seeped into the apartment during the rain. We were expecting rain later in the day. I wondered if the tenant beneath those shingles would appreciate the rain.
I do need to say that it was neither the bleeding walls nor the seeping tiles that had first brought the building to my attention; these observations only came with a second examination. Instead it was a simple object sitting on the basement apartment window sill that had caught my eye; a common Coca-Cola cup. Perhaps it was the contrasting colours that grabbed my attention; or perhaps the thought again of the tenant, looking out to see other people’s garbage sitting on his window sill. I wondered if he would appreciate that more than his neighbour, a few couple floors above, appreciated the rain?
The only reason I bring this up is because of what happened next as I sat sipping my coffee. In about the time I have taken to describe this building to you I became aware of an older lady who had come into my view at some point in time. I had not noticed when she entered the street. I realize now that I only became aware of her as I had become aware of the building. Had she always been there, unnoticed? As soon as she registered in my conscience I had this sense of liking her.
She wore a flower-patterned cloth hat that fit snug on her head, hiding her grey thinning hair. I could tell what it was hiding because of the wisps that had won their freedom from the confines of the masking hat. She wore a white jacket, like a lady’s waist jacket with a belt around her middle. Her dress was of the plain sort. To add some contrast to this she had placed a scarf around her neck to hang loosely in front of her. I knew it was for contrast because a scarf has no other purpose on a hot summer morning. Even now I enjoy the thought that the scarf was just for effect. I took a sip of my coffee.
As she continued her slow walk down the street I could see she had a pronounced limp. I wondered if she had an operation but refused to acknowledge it by refusing a cane. She seemed to me to have that kind of character. She had a satchel on her right side and an umbrella hooked on her left arm. I could not help myself from smiling as I noticed the white running shoes with the knee-high socks. This was a very determined lady, I thought to myself.
As I continued to watch she suddenly stopped her walk from unknown places to unknown destinations to consider a bag of garbage that had been tossed to the side of the walkway. It was not a large garbage bag but an ordinary Couche-Tard bag that had been used for garbage. It must have been overlooked by every other person who passed it by that morning; by everybody but this lady. While shaking her head with disapproval she picked up the bag with two fingers and in a single fluid motion stepped to my Coca-Cola cup.
Understand when I say my Coca-Cola cup I am not taking responsibility for it only that it was the cup I had noticed earlier. I guess in this sense this wonderful lady and I shared in its possession. She was not even aware that she shared any connection to a strange man who sat in a widow a floor above her watching while sipping his coffee.
Without missing a step she picked up the cup, walked to the edge of the curb, dumped its contents into the street drain and then set the cup and the bag back on the basement window sill for the next person to take care of it. I had this feeling from her actions that she believed she had done her part, now someone else could finish it. From my viewpoint she had cleverly taken something unseen and made it visible. Perhaps this was meant to provoke a reaction in someone else. I liked the simplicity of it. Having done her duty she was free to go on her way, which she did.
Now, it is the actions that followed that provoked me into believing that this lady was worthy of immortalizing with paper and pen. As she limped her way up the street, heading off into oblivion she suddenly stopped. The thought that quickly formed was that she had just spied another garbage bag out of place on her tidy street. But this thought was too fast in forming. She quickly turned around and stared hard at the garbage which was still sitting on the window sill. To no one in particular she shook her head as if she were scolding herself. She limped back to that cup and bag, picked them up and, with some effort, limped across to my side of the street, promptly throwing the unwanted items into the public garbage can. I might add a garbage can that was in plain sight of that little bag the entire morning. Then she was gone from my sight and so was the garbage.
Without even realizing it this dear lady had brought a smile to my day and perhaps to the tenant’s as well. I realized she shared many similarities to that grey building to which she had paid such a good service that morning. Yet she was of much firmer stock and bore her age far more gracefully than the poor building had been permitted. Where the building had been forced to give up this dear old lady was still going strong.
There is a lesson here to learn I believe. I have no doubt that this lady belonged to that street, cared for it and even bore the disgrace of its members with a mighty fortitude that had seen her still cleaning other people’s messes. It is as if she were trying to lend a bit of her grace to it without it every acknowledging that fact; like a relation that everyone is ashamed of but for whom everyone tries to cover with their own grace. Yes, that’s how it felt on that street, like family. So, even when she could have passed on the care of this family into younger hands she did not let go of the grace that was needed.
As I left my place of observation that day, feeling pleased for what I had seen, I was careful of one thing; to place my coffee cup in its proper place. Such grace leaves a lasting impression upon the soul.