Thursday, September 23, 2010

Echos of a Bus Ride

by Countee Cullen

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember. 

I stumbled on this poem during the Great Swine Flu Epidemic of '09. Nestled into a comfy, leather chair, I spent the better part of two months reading literature anthologies. The decadence justified because all classes were suspended. I must have read dozens of works but a year later this poem is the one that stuck with me the most. The way in which the youthful narrator uses simple words to convey such an adult experience really struck me. The story it tells is of a kind of tiny tragedy and I'm a sucker for that sort of poesy. Even though the words were written 85 years ago they still ring true today. Perhaps because we all run into bits of life that are uncanny reflections of this poem.
This summer I was frolicking with a group of new found friends on the beach in Fiji. Beers in our hands and songs on our lips, we were having a great time. But later I was wounded when the others started whispering loudly enough so I could hear that they had given me the nickname Velma. I was the only person on the island with short, brown hair and glasses; apparently I was a perfect doppelganger of the Scooby Doo character. Another incident this summer occurred when unkind words about my body were used in front of me; also bringing a sharp kick to my pride and self-esteem.
But after the second run-in with the mean boy from Baltimore I thought about the poem from a year ago and pulled up my big girl panties. Just feeling crappy about incidents wouldn't help. Even though I am no longer eight like our miniature narrator, it was so easy to let nasty feelings seep out of specific comments and color entire days. But they were my days and I'd be damned if I'd let some haters ruin the beaches or the morning bagels that I intended to relish. I should be the one to decide if I felt crappy about my glasses, pale skin or hips. Eff that! Especially since the things I was ridiculed for were byproducts of my time in Mongolia- resulting manifestations of a physically harsh year in service to others. In the poem the boys' parade had gotten rained on and he was too young to have the wherewithal to pop up an umbrella. His days from May until December was shrouded in one act of unkindness. Instead what I chose to take away from my Baltimorian experiences was that there are eight-year-olds everywhere, some of them just don't look their age. But what I can do to counter these people is to grow up and not let the clouds idle over my days. My friend has a blog called Be Excellent To Each Other. I like that title and have decided doing just that is the best way to live. In striving for excellence I'd argue that there are fewer hateful moments with fellow passengers. And really in the end aren't we all on the same bus?


E in Atlanta said...

ohhhh..let me at those kids in Fiji...and I know where to find the other one! are right. that is fruitless since there are always clueless people in our midst. (As a victim of whispered comments about 'bird-legs' I can totally understand! My childhood nickname, carol the barrel, still resounds.) But, we do let those go and enjoy the day. (remember annie lamots comment about her thighs and swimming? Enjoy the plunge!)

Bob Wagner said...

You go girl! We each have our temptation to become the victim. You refuse to fall into that trap. Good for you! Lordy knows we already have an extended family full of vicitms! Love, Dad

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