If you know me in person, you know I am mostly on time for things. Not always, not every day, but I spend a lot of time on street corners, waiting for people to meet me.
The sad part about this is, of course, that it's made me think of myself as the Person Who Shows Up. (Corollary is, naturally, When Other People Don't.)
Perhaps you know the feeling? You're waiting by a predetermined location. It's cold. You eye the crowd, picking out a jacket color that looks familiar, or a certain way of walking. There they are, you think excitedly, this is them! But they come closer, resolve into focus and out of expectation and you realize it's not the person you're waiting for at all, wrong hat, wrong height, wrong face, wrong, wrong, wrong.
And then you wait some more, and do it again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
If I changed this around a little bit, tweaked the metaphor, it could be a description of my entire childhood and adolescence. Longing, waiting, expecting, and the inevitable rush of disappointment. Over and over and over: waiting to be met, perfected, chosen
That's true. It never did.
Because the trouble is, of course, while you're waiting, you have tunnel vision. You miss a lot of stuff. In the background, over there. While I was waiting to become cool, to become a musical prodigy, to have some stupid boy fall in love with me -- things were happening. Ordinary things. I was being chosen, and not only did I not know it at the time, if I had, I probably wouldn't have cared.
In an elevator, I was about a year and a half old, a toddler, and going down to the laundry room with my mother. The woman who lived in the apartment above us was in the elevator too. Somehow, and I don't know why or how, she met my eyes -- and she must have fallen in love. That's what she says, anyway. Flash forward a little more than a decade, and she's taking me with her on a trip to Tennessee, and a little place called Highlander
It's there that I meet Rosa Parks, who tells me that she thinks I'm stubborn & tenacious. And that means I'll do great things. It got her places, after all. I don't really care; I'm much more concerned about not getting that solo in chorus.
A few years later, I'm in high school. We're singing with Pete Seeger in some concert in Central Park. Sweet Honey in the Rock is there too, and out of the chorus rehearsal, Bernice Johnson Reagon picks me out of the line - (I'm in front because I am short.) She calls my name, says in that deep, rolling voice of hers: "How are you doing? Remember you used to sing for us in that apartment in DC? We talk about you all the time... Don't you waste your promise, child."
I didn't really care about that either; just an old lady I can barely remember from when I was a kid, nattering on. Not important. Much more concerned with an argument I'm having with my friends, and how lonely I feel all the time. No one sees me, I think. A few weeks after this, I perform a social experiment: I stop speaking except when absolutely necessary for three weeks, to see if anyone notices. No one seems to, and I feel humiliated. And vindicated in my humiliation.
There's so many of these encounters, I can't even tell you.
I met someone in an elevator -- not that I remember it, I've just been told -- and they fell in love. That had nothing to do with me, I was just a toddler. It was just grace. Luck. And because of it, I was a child who was known to so much of the civil rights movement -- heroes, REAL heroes -- and I didn't notice or care.
Today I heard that Odetta died.
I don't know what to say except that I wish I had appreciated being chosen to be a child in the presence of greatness like that.