When I Grow Up

How surprisingly easy it was to ignore him! What I was letting rip, in fact, was my willingness to look foolish, in his eyes and in my own. Having chosen this foolishness, I was a free being. How could the world ever stop me, how could I betray myself, if I was not afraid?

It couldn’t be helped this morning. U2 was playing on the iPod– their own thrilling version of the Mission Impossible theme. Outside it was a beautiful morning with the new leaves coming on everywhere: both sides of the road were layers and layers of different shades of green. I was in the car with my very own children and the sun was coming through the clouds and we only have six weeks of school left.

Of course I was dancing.

Will was dancing, too. Next to me, riding shotgun. We were dancing together to U2’s version of Mission Impossible. We were being dramatic. We were being demonstrative. We were having a Wonderful Time.

But Everett wouldn’t have it– or didn’t want to. “Stop that,” came his voice over my right shoulder. “Mom, cut it out.”

For why, I wanted to know? Who could possibly care? It was a beautiful morning. The leaves are coming. Summer is on its way.

“Mom. Stop.”

But U2–

“Stop.”

And really, he was right, right? I mean, the Last Thing we want is to embarrass ourselves in front of all the people we’ve never seen and do not know who happen to be heading West on the I-40.

I tried to stop dancing. I did. In fact, I’m pretty sure I stopped. There is Something Important, I think, in protecting– at least somewhat, anyway– the potential chagrin of a sixth grader.

And then came my first period class, and with it a true story from Jack, a senior, who does some volunteer work for the Durham Police Department.

Jack entertained us all this morning with the story of what came in over his radio yesterday afternoon as he was headed to the police station. He isn’t a police officer (obviously), but he somehow has a police radio, and so yesterday he heard the call about an exit ramp off I-85 that was all backed up. It seemed a car was stopped there on the exit ramp in the middle of the rain storm.

I remember that rain storm. It was brief and surprising. The few large and dark clouds that were traced all in sunlight decided to let loose on us all of a sudden, and for a very few minutes, Durham was lost in a rain shower, one that had my wipers going full-tilt, one that sent water splashing, one that reminded us of a summer thunderstorm.

It was Most Welcome.

And I was not alone, apparently, in welcoming it. For it seems that the driver who had stopped her car on the exit ramp off of I-85 yesterday afternoon did so because of the rain. Yes, she did. The drivers who were waiting, who were stopping up traffic on a major interstate, were doing so because this woman had stopped her car, had parked her car, had climbed out of her car, and was dancing in the rain on the exit ramp.

This was what the police call was about– the one that Jack told us about in first period today. And Jack told us that the officers were falling over themselves (figuratively, I mean) responding to the call, each of them wanting to be the first to get there, to politely stop the dancer and ask her to move along and– I am sure of it– to just get a glimpse of her dancing.

What’s a heart for, anyway?

And now I have a new ambition. Yes, I do. I’ll just have to wait awhile to accomplish it– until the next exit ramp, until the next rain shower, and until my children are just a little bit older.

What could touch me now? For what were the people on Penn Avenue to me, or what was I to myself, really, but a witness to any boldness I could muster, or any cowardice if it came to that, any giving up on heaven for the sake of dignity on earth? I had not seen a great deal accomplished in the name of dignity, ever.

(quotes borrowed with gratitude from Annie Dillard’s brilliantly wonderful An American Childhood. Thank you, Annie.)


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