Blind-sided and Gobsmacked
It was just a regular day, suddenly sucking.
Very fatigued that morning, I managed to dress myself, even hooking my bra–not just letting The Ladies dangle and flap in the wind. I even managed to apply a little slap and hairspray, getting in costume to mimic an adult.
Exiting the house, the door slammed shut, and in that nanosecond, I had a realization: I felt in my pockets. No keys. No way to drive the car. No way to get back into the house.
Scrambling and ringing doorbells ’round the neighborhood, I found a neighbor who could give me a lift; during the drive, I heard about how her marriage is over, for reals this time, and she and the kids will be out by spring; getting to campus, I found Groom (who was working the art show) and hollered breathlessly at him not to leave; then I ran into my classroom eight minutes late and hollered at them not to leave before hitching a ride home with Groom, and, moments later, turning around to drive back to the college, getting there just in time to gather up the comma activities I’d gotten my class working on in the midst of my 18-mile dash; finally, at noon exactly, dabbing the sweat from my forehead, I hit a curriculum meeting.
While I sweated and dabbed, our household had the son of a thirty-four-year-old woman who’d just had a double masectomy over for playdate. Two hours later, our pregnant neighbor slid off the road and had to go into hospital for monitoring, which meant we got to entertain her three-year-old daughter for the evening.
By the time 10 p.m. hit, the kids had just gotten to bed; we’d just eaten pesto; Groom had slapped his prone form onto the bed; and it was off to teach my online classes.
Grading a research paper on how Jenny McCarthy cured her son of autism, I found my inner self rejecting all post-post-post modern ironic conditioning. What other possible reaction was there, when grading a college-level research paper on how Jenny McCarthy cured her son of autism–and network stations went off the air–than to tune into The Cosby Show?
Two decades after tolerating an episode, I, to my simultaneous horror and surprise, watched the show avidly. I found it timeless and smart and realistic and brave. It had characters sitting down and talking to each other, in a relatively-unscripted fashion, in five-minute exchanges. It had self-deprication. It had style.
Surreally, I saw myself reacting positively to the show I should mock; I saw myself respecting an easy target. I hardly knew myself. Where’d. my. beyotch. go?
During that episode, I found myself more surprised than I had been by the day of hurting mothers and missing car keys. I found myself moved, barely breathing, taken back to a moment of fundamental admiration and amazement: I found myself, having just weathered 18 minutes of Vanessa and Denise fighting over a purple sweater, well,
I found myself crying.
In this episode, the entire Brooklyn brownstoned family had been fraught with rammies, butting up against each other. A tentative peace had been struck, but all of them, in their shoulder pads and lame’ fabrics, were still stomping around a bit. Then, as they walked through the living room, a voice reached them from the television.
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.”
The Huxtables, plus one pasty white Midwestern girl on a futon, lurched to a stop.
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
Cliff, Clair, and I smoothed down our gelled hair and listened harder, the day’s hassles falling away.
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.'”
We sat down on the couch together, me shouldering in against Theo (who never should have gotten his ear pierced without telling his parents), riveted by astonishment. Something wondrous was happening.
“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
Holy Zeke. I may have slammed into the classroom that morning, panting and cussing and apologizing to students for being late, explaining about having hitch-hiked a ride. At lunch, my husband may have fed Pokemon mac ‘n cheese to the son of an stricken woman who had been forced chose to have both of her breasts cut off. At dinner, we may have hosted the soon-to-be big sister neighbor girl, whose mom–six months pregnant–was taken hostage by her car as it careened into a bank of trees. We may have found ourselves exhausted and hungry and overwhelmed by 10 p.m.
I may have found myself going to work, grading papers in my online classes, at midnight. I may have felt achey, physically and emotionally, from the cruddy day.
“And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”
I, who always chafed at the Pledge of Allegiance, was humbled. I had a flash of recalling that I am nothing, yet I am part of everything.
Cuddling in, I held Rudi Huxtable on my lap, and she was soft and smelled of biscuits. And, as I twirled one of her braids, how could I even fake being cool? I was hanging with the Huxtables, sharing in miraculous rhetoric. We were just people, united across decades and networks, held rapt by truth and beauty and words of justice.
Adjusting Rudi on my lap, I admired Denise’s bangles, patted Theo’s be-sweatered back, and continued to cry.
“…when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
My worst day wasn’t even on the same continuum as this Best Day.