A Year In Mill Valley

Archive for September, 2010

The Hardy Boys, The Final Chapter

Just read this article about the Hardy Boys. It awakened the smell of the children’s book section in the Osterville Library in 1964, and that feeling of not being able to wait for the next volume to be transferred from Hyannis or Chatham or wherever another boy was reading “my book”. Nathaniel is reading the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift now — which thrills me no end because I can see his book brain coming alive — but I find it hard not to fall asleep when he and I read them at night. Amazing what passes for literature for an 11 year old :-)

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On Being Handicapped, On Luck, and The Kindness of Strangers

Today I had lunch at Cafe Centro, as I often do. A Cobb Salad por aqui, and an iced latte para llevar. On the way out I passed a gentleman in a wheel chair. He’d come in, then turned around, and was blocking the door as I tried to leave. I looked down and saw that he’d dropped a book. I asked him if I could help him, and he smiled “yes”. I gave him the book and then asked if he needed any other help, and he said “no thanks”.

As I left I was struck by my current situation — I dislocated my shoulder at Stinson Beach on Monday and my left arm is in a sling. I was running into the water with my 7-year old, Sebastian, and dove into what I thought was a 3′ wave coming in. The wave turned out to be 2 1/2 feet of foam and 6 inches of water, and my left hand hit the sand and popped my shoulder out of its socket. As I was getting hooked up by the paramedics for the ride to Marin General they said something that made me realize how lucky I’d been — “a couple of inches and it would have been your neck and not your shoulder”. I crossed the street and into the park, and I thought about the minor inconvenience that having my arm in a sling has been. And as I quietly compared it to the man in the wheelchair, or the possibility of having a brocken neck, the inconvenience disappeared into unimportance.

I walked across the park and down the alley to Brannan Street, and waited for the traffic to pass. On the other side of the road cars were stopped at 2nd street, and a huge PG&E truck was coming out of Stanford Street honking its horn to be let across traffic. I watched it push its way across the traffic, and I cringed because I could see that the driver wasn’t looking at the traffic, and hadn’t seen the tiny Toyota Corolla with a mother and two children. Whether it was luck, or fate, or angels, the truck missed the car by inches. As it completed its turn and passed me by I looked up at the driver and wiped my brow. He looked down at me, smiled grimly, and wiped his brow back.

When I got home I caught up on some reading and came across this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye in a Tim Ferris blog post. It reminded me of Stinson, about the things that had happened at lunch, about how lucky I have been in my life, how handicapped I am not, and the amazing kindness of strangers that I have been privileged to encounter.


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

by Naomi Shihab Nye

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