Monday, June 27, 2005

Some people have a knack for getting smacked 

During his drive out to the upper Midwest, Jeff from Quid Nomen Illius stumbles into a life lesson.

Unshaven and surly, I fill up my car at the station next to the seedy Denny's where I ate dinner last night, a wondrous place where nearly all of the patrons are perfect spheres, and half a tank into my business I glance up from the gas-fumes to discover that the world, the whole world, has stopped. Police cruisers block the intersections, and only a group of Harleys and a long line of flag-bearing SUVs are allowed to use the one route back to the interstate and I think: Aw, hell. My friends say I have a knack for stumbling into things; leave it to me to drive right into a goddamn parade.

But then I shake off my remnant sleep and I realize: The crowds of people waving flags along the side of the road--they're not cheering. In fact, they're eerily silent.

And then I see: That's not a black station wagon passing in front of me. It's a hearse.

I'm mortified by how disrespectful I've been, and immediately I stand up straight next to my car and join the many Ohioans who have come out of KMart and other nearby stores to stand on the curb and pay their respects to a fallen Marine. It's hot, and everyone is in shorts, tank-tops, sandals, whatever they'd wear on a normal June morning. I shouldn't feel underdressed, but I do. The cars pass, and pass, and pass, and I'm no longer worried about rushing toward the interstate. I wish I had a hat to remove.

I'm reminded of the Zen saying that when you need a teacher, one will be presented to you. I have noticed that when I remove my hat, place it over my heart, and sing the national anthem at a ballgame, nervous glances often are replaced by others joining me. Sometimes you're the student, and sometimes you're the teacher.