6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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20050820

A Mid-August Stroll

Today I’m much ado about nothing. Sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of strong, black coffee, I look out the window. The oak trees seem much fuller than usual for this time of year. But there are only a few more weeks of summer left, and it won’t be much longer before the lush green leaves turn to a yellow brown.

For the last couple of weeks Cindy Sheehan has consumed me with her misguided protest of the war in Iraq. I’m not one to usually offer an opinion on political issues as I’m generally indifferent to such matters, however, Sheehan quite literally had me tearing at the newspapers with her recondite arguments as to why President Bush should be impeached for his failed leadership policies.

Now that she has had to leave her post in Texas to attend to her ailing mother in Los Angeles, I wonder how much United for Peace and Justice and Michael Moore’s nematodes will be able to keep up with their effrontery to our sense of common decency. I wish Sheehan well, though. She has suffered a great loss, and I hope she is able to overcome her grief and find that quiet place in her heart where she can honor her son in death as she has honored him in life.

Work itself today was a battle. Most of our older students have been discharged from our treatment home, and in the last month, we’ve had four new “mad at the world” students come into our program--two seventeen year olds, and two slightly younger. As with most of our at-risk youth, they have experienced broken homes, alcohol, a variety of drugs, and incarceration for theft, possession, and probation violations.

I like to think my first name is easy to remember. After all, what could possibly be so difficult about remembering, “Scot.” Yet with the new students, it always seems to take a month or so until they actually become comfortable with calling me by my first name. When I redirect a new student—as I did today when I asked a student to find something less violent to watch on TV—the typical response is, “Shut up, asshole.” As I mentioned to one of my colleagues once, I think their epithet they refer to me by may be due to the fact that I’m bald. Sometimes when redirected, though, a kid will demonstrate he’s having trouble with the obvious by shouting, “You’re an asshole!” I just take it as a simple acknowledgement of my presence and the fact that I’m being complimented for doing my job, thus I usually respond by saying, “Thank you.” When I do, the kid will look at me with a confused and uncertain stare, and then get up and walk away shaking his head.

I get up from the table and warm up my cup with the last of the coffee in the pot. My cat is stretched out in his window seat as if to demonstrate he can out relax me any day of the week. Outside it’s sunny, with a few clouds—about 70 degrees. The Colonial Theater in downtown Belfast is playing “Finding Home.” I think I might head on down. It’s only a half-mile from where I live, and if I leave now, I’ll have more than enough time to stop in Darby’s for a char-burger, hand cut fries and a pint of Guinness draft. It’s a one, two, three combination that’s hard to beat, and is truly satisfying to the palate. Instead of walking, though, I think I’ll take a stroll.

There’s a distinct difference between taking a walk and taking a stroll. A walk is more of a point a to point b affair, whereas a stroll is more lackadaisical. The objective of a stroll is its leisure; a walk, its intention. On a walk the urgency is to get there now. On a stroll, however, there isn’t any urgency, for time and destination is of no consequence. Wherever we get to is where we are, and where we are is where we have arrived. It’s as simple as that. On a walk you’re more in your head than out. In your head you churn out thoughts about not having enough money from paycheck to paycheck, thoughts about never being to get ahead in life, the ever-nagging uncertainty of your life’s purpose or work. But on a stroll you’re blissfully out of your head and into your surroundings. When I stroll on down to the center of Belfast, I marvel how the ash trees—sixty to eighty feet tall—line and shade High Street with its cascading branches. I become pleasantly aware of the sonorous cry of the gull, the cackling of the crows, the cadences of the insects, sounds that affirm a late summer day.

Usually I begin by taking in a deep breath, the air pungent with the smell of the ocean. I appreciate how unique and significant Belfast looks--its buildings architecturally designed during the 1800’s in the federalist, Italianate, and Greek Revival style.

When I look at these houses--these grand homes--that were built during this time, I begin to get a sense of how prosperous this place was that is so indelibly tied to the sea.

There’s the Thomas Whittier House, built in 1803, that later became a popular inn for drinking, dining and dancing. My favorite is the Italianate style house built in 1859 for Charles B. Hazeltine, who had made his fortune by supplying California ‘49ers during the gold rush.

And often as I saunter down Primrose Hill, I notice little things: a toy shovel left by a mound of dirt next to the front steps of an apartment building, Black-eyed Susans growing against the base of an old maple with a ragged crown, and the gray, life-sized wood carved elephant that stands on the edge of the roof of the Colonial Theater.

I rinse out my coffee cup and set it on the counter. And so much ado about nothing, I put on my New Balance shoes and cinch up the laces. Grabbing the Pounce cat treats from the top of the refrigerator, I feed a couple of tidbits to my cat. I’m not sure why I do this except that it’s become a customary thing to do each time I go somewhere. I think perhaps I do this to reassure him that I’ll return.

I put on my long sleeve shirt in anticipation of a cool night, grab my hat, and head out the door. When I finally do arrive at Darby’s and sit at the table, I know I will find myself relaxed and eager for that first slow sip of Guinness. It’s days like these that make me realize that perhaps things aren’t so bad afterall.

By S. L. Cunningham