Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Tao of Peace

Last week, after yet another snow date, snow flew as people dug out their cars and mailboxes. I met someone who lived a small stone's throw away and I commiserated when she told me about the water leak in her bedroom. "My entire bed was sopping wet."

And I had a conversation with my next door neighbor, a reclusive engineer, who left for work, returned in the evening —but never conversed with any neighbors. He offered to help me dig out after the plow left a huge heavy pile in front of the car. Within ten minutes we talked about the roofs in upper state New York, his home in Minnesota "...Where it's eleven degrees below zero today. " This morning he shared something he had seen: "The fire department's got it's long ladder leaning against the station and they're up there shoveling the roof. I've never seen anything like it."

On my way to the library I drove past the fire station and the scene was just as he described. Across the street several parishioners chopped away at the window ledges of the Methodist Church.

The answer to achieving peace may reside in something as insignificant as a snow storm. Shoveling gets people out and gives them a topic. Instead of honing in on differences a common denominator allows for a particular type of intimacy.

My aunt told me about the New York City blackout in 1977. While looting did happen and even arson—it didn't tell the whole story. My aunt said that she was on the tenth floor of a high rise when everything went black. One man led a snakelike parade down the stairs to the lobby. My aunt had her hand on the shoulder of the man who "worked in accounting". They all counted steps on the way down. "Hold on to the

"And in the lobby someone started a sing along and we sang everything from old union songs to the recent top ten."

I can't imagine my aunt singing a Queen's song.
We are the champions, my friends
And we'll keep on fighting - till the end

My aunt loved glamourous clothes, high heels, and making a fashion statement. When I visited her I slept on a silk sheet on a round bed. Her bathroom in black and white, her Chinese cabinet with a copy of a Ming cloisonné plate, and an eight inch high fig tree contrasted with my mother's collection of ceramic roosters or my grandmother's large rubber band ball in the hall closet.

She loved "a bit" of gambling—knew things like trifecta and perfecta. My mother loved bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches," Light on the mayo, please." My aunt loved restaurants with white tablecloths, a plenitude of utensils, and a long wine list. She smoked Pell Mell her whole life and never intended to quit.

My mother played Mai Jong for pennies, shared meals with friends, and bought clothes that had been marked down —with their tags slashed or removed. Or she sewed her own clothes on a vintage Singer sewing machine in a treadle stand. "She's an antique, but still sews."

Aunt Rose had a few close friends, didn't talk to people standing on lines or at the next table at a restaurant. My mother managed to get into conversations with anyone in close proximity, my grandmother served tea and a slice of honey cake to the apartment building super, the insurance man who came once a week to collect her premium, and bone day to the three Jehovah Witnesses who came to the door with their tracts. She listened to what they had to say and then told them that she spoke to God every day. My grandmother's relationship with God was on a real personal level—and she told me to remember to say thank you.

I guess I needed a shoveling day to meet my neighbor.