Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Small Things are the Big Things

There's a scene -- by no means unique to our neighborhood -- that plays itself out every morning as I walk Inez. Our route takes us past the local elementary school, a nice early-20th century building with colorful murals, but also a bunch of tagged playground equipment that sits in the middle of a concrete slab.

Each morning, a handful of school busses pull up to the side of the building to pick up the students, overwhelmingly white, who will be spirited off to magnet schools as their Latino and black neighbors walk through the doors of the local elementary. I mean absolutely no judgement here (except against the funding formulas for urban public schools). Much as I like to think John and I would have the courage to send our kids to the neighborhood school, I have a feeling we'd be escorting them to one of those busses every morning, relieved they had access to current textbooks and a smaller daily dose of potential violence. I'm grateful we've never had to make this decision. I recognize what it means to have the luxury of that choice.

Anyway . . .

One of those busses has been a thorn in my side much of the winter. Caravan #49 has always, always, always parked itself so it was jutting way into the crosswalk, forcing anyone trying to get across -- from schoolchildren to various commuters to myself and Inez -- to walk around the nose of the bus and into the street, blinded to oncoming traffic.

One day we missed getting hit by barely an inch, and I'd had enough. I motioned to the driver to open his window and asked if that was his designated parking spot. 'No,' he said, 'I'm just picking up the kids.' 'Right,' I said, 'but is this your assigned space? The bus is in the crosswalk and it's dangerous to get around it.' 'I'm leaving in a minute,' he said. 'I have to pick up the kids.' 'I understand,' I said, 'but we can't see the cars around the bus. Is there anyway to pull back a little?' 'The kids are taking the bus,' he said.


Then Daylight Savings hit, and I shifted Inez's walking time to avoid the morning darkness. Caravan #49 was out of my life for a while.

Dawn hits a little earlier now, so I'm back to our old schedule. This past Monday, just up ahead, there was Caravan #49. Not in the crosswalk, but pulled back nicely with the hazard lights on, and the driver sweeping the last of the snow from the bus's entrance. I walked by and made it a point to wave, and he waved back warmly, with a smile of recognition.

There are the connections you have with people you know, and of course they're welcome and coveted ones. But there's something deeply human about the connections you have with perfect strangers, especially those that start on the brink of disaster. Thank you, Caravan #49, for reminding me of the power of a simple exchange, distilled by kindness.

1 comment:

leslie said...

This ended so much better than I'd expected. Hooray for that.

And empathy for all parents raising children in cities like Chicago. Sadly, there is a line between instilling your values in your children, and sacrificing your children upon your values. The disparities in our schools in Lawrence are easier to fight against, thanks in large part to sheer size. I can't imagine what it would be like in the city.