Faith Without a Safety Net

I still have fifteen minutes to burn with this second cup of coffee. The cop across the street is joined now by a second officer. A thin man with a thin, scraggly beard stands nearby with his hands cuffed behind his back, his eyes fixed on the pavement. I’ve always been amazed at how the police take their time to dot the i’s and cross the t’s while their trophy wilts in the mist for the amusement of others. Pedestrians walk around the quarry under the cover of umbrellas and sneak a peak. I imagine the fear is that if you look too closely, you can see yourself, so they don’t look back. Straight ahead of him is a leather-faced man with deep crevices and gray stubble. He’s a homeless vet—his sign says so—and he has his can for coins, his dog, and his shopping cart. He lurches for conversation, for money...for a thread of his past, maybe. The past that he walked away from and is afraid to go back to. The present ignores him, and his future...is back at the corner tomorrow, I guess.

Across the corner on a bench is a herd of pierced teenagers grazing on fast food and cigarettes: boys in baggy pants with too much crease showing, girls with half t-shirts that show too much rib cage. In the closing dark of the day they talk with their hands and arms, making gyrations that only the club can understand, although I do recognize the middle finger. Back and forth they go, and to where, I don’t know. If this is their present, what is their future?

Life should expand as you get older, but I sometimes wonder. I travel and work; I rush to rest. Relationships bend to the touch-and-go rhythms of work performance, done to the drumbeat of a 401(k) that rages and recedes like spring rivers. I got off the street, into recovery, and for what, really? The mind-numbing life of pressing prepackaged concepts into square holes and working within time blocks that are not mine?

And now I have met this lady, who has this child. I can see them everywhere I turn, and it makes me stop. I want to walk in their time, to touch their space, to talk their language, to sit in their chaos. It means my life shrinks further, that I throw away the final bricks of what once was a great wall that shielded me from responsibility. My smoldering vulnerabilities get oxygen, and I am always nervous about that.

I see them down the street, side by side, hand in hand. The girl runs to me, arms outstretched. The lady kisses me. It is only the three of us. My shrinking world can expand from here.

Daniel Buckwalter lives in Eugene, Oregon and has been published in two other reviews. He studied English at the University of Oregon and works as a copy editor for a daily newspaper.