Posted by: pendrops | October 10, 2007

mean streets

traffic_jam.jpg

Before we got to Atlanta, I had been excited about seeing a new place, stretching my soul’s bones, working my mind’s muscles, atrophied as I had become by rut and routine. I looked forward to exploring unfamiliar sights and seeing what the change of scenery would do for my writing, and my heart.

Let me tell you: after only a few minutes within the city’s limits the excitement turned to burning hot lava rage with a side of fear thrown in. Five- and six-lane highways where cars, too many to count, zipped by in what seemed like ready-to-boil-over anger. I made it to the hotel in one piece, but my nerves had frayed, so I holed up in the room, massaged my tense shoulder muscles and fell asleep very early to dreams of quiet open spaces and empty two-lane country roads.

The next morning, I awoke with renewed optimism and anticipation. “I can do this,” I assured myself as I walked to the car, pages of maps directions in hand. I ventured out (against the flow of traffic; thank God for small miracles) and headed to Whole Foods Market, a natural foods superstore of sorts.

But on my twenty-minute trek there, I noticed it again; the furious drivers. Now I know we have angry drivers in Nashville, but there was a different vibe in the thriving Southern metropolis I found myself in. A kill-or-be-killed mentality. A survival of the fittest attitude. If you’re looking for a kind face and a generous wave to let you merge in a bumper-to-bumper jam, good luck.

Still, I accomplished my goal of safe arrival at the grocery store where I spent two hours avoiding people in cars and exploring the long aisles with a plentiful plethora of all-things-organic. Several workers passed me and I smiled, but not a one gave me the time of day. It wasn’t until I asked one worker about the cooking classes on the second floor that I got so much as a glance.

“Dey is good classes. Good cooking,” he said in a thick and pleasant African accent. That’s right, the nicest person in Atlanta is from another stinkin’ continent.

After the store, I headed to a local library and was immediately enchanted by the wall-to-wall books I found after entering the doors smeared with the fingerprints of children. Books were scattered, messes of them, stacked high, a bit unkempt, in a very public-library sort of way. And I was drinking it in.

I roamed the children’s library, brushing my fingers over A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door before passing a wall of art by seven- and eight-year-olds. As I passed the scrawled drawings of monkeys and elephants, a librarian, looking directly at me, came within inches of ramming my left hip with her cart full of books.

“Oh, excuse me,” I said, sweet as I could.

“Mmm,” came her boorish grunt, to which I turned for one last look at the children’s stacks with their vibrant and funny and un-angry books, and left.

That’s where I was, headed out of the library, when I saw the bumper sticker with rainbow-colored words.

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Never before had Ghandi’s famous words felt so real and tangible to me. Never before had they shed such light on my divided heart.

You see, I couldn’t help being “kind” in the unkind town. It was my survival mechanism. Kill ’em with kindness, I said. But, truth be told, I just wanted to kill people. (That’s bad…I know.) My kindness was kindness for all the wrong reasons; kindness masquerading as judgment.

Mine is a heart that, at its root, gets angry at the angered, harried because of the hurrying, despondent with the despairing, hates the haters. Yet, somewhere in there, I crave gentleness, kindness, slowness, peace, simplicity, beauty, conservation, hope, love. And Ghandi’s words found me on the mean streets and echoed in my soul.

If you want peace, be peaceful.

If you want justice, be just.

If you want mercy, be merciful.

If you want beauty, be beautiful (in that deep down sort of way).

If you want quietness, be quiet.

If you want laughter, laugh.

If you want a smile, give one. Give lots of them, even if you don’t get one back.

If you want love, love.

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Responses

  1. I lived in Atlanta for 10 years and moved away 8 years ago. Traffic drove me away–which is a funny choice of words. You’re right about how bad it is there. Dealing with life in the metro Atlanta area must drive them all crazy.


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