“Are we there yet?”
“Life is a journey, my dear. If you waste your time asking if you’re there yet, you’ve already missed your destination.”
“Right. I should keep my eyes open along the way.”
“That would be easier if I wasn’t blindfolded.”
“You’re completely missing the point.”
She sighed. She’d reluctantly agreed to the blindfold again. I liked to save the venues of our courting engagements as a surprise for the last moment. And it gave us both a fresh perspective on the term “blind date.”
“Where are we going?” she asked pleadingly.
“To a place . . . where stories of the past lie dormant.”
I sensed her stiffen in the passenger seat. “You’re not taking me to another graveyard?”
“Only in a manner of speaking.”
“No human skeletons?”
“Well, anything’s possible, I can’t be–sure–that . . .” The look on her face, or half of it, withered me, warning that I would soon be a skeleton if I wasn’t careful. “No human skeletons,” I promised.
“We’re here,” I announced before she could say anything else. I turned off the road and hopped the gravel verge. Grass rustled beneath the wheels.
“Here here, where we are, right now.”
“Can I take off–”
As I put the van into park a shudder of excitement passed through my frame. This was the moment when I always felt like a detective about to name the killer. I took no less pride in arranging original social activities than did the sleuth in crime-solving, as if it took just as much genius. Definitely no less madness.
My feet fell on the plush carpet of grass, and gazing out across the meadow, speckled with flowers and painted gold by the sunlight, I felt a twinge of apprehension. I could only hope she would see the same interest I saw in it.
I helped her out of the car and led her by the hand. Putting our backs to the meadow I led her toward a line of trees at its edge.
“Well,” she said hesitantly, “it feels nice enough so far. Grass is promis–wait, what’s this?” She gave an experimental stomp.
“Leaf mold. We’re going under some trees, be careful. Here, this way . . . watch out for that–sorry! are you okay? Don’t take the leaves out of your hair, they look nice–stop, branch! Here, I’ll hold my arm in front of your head, keep going–careful of that root there–a little farther, there you go.”
I led her out from under the trees and admired the sight opening up before us. I was still convinced it was perfect. For once I doubted I could convince her.
I watched her head tilt and her forehead crease as she asked, “Why do I hear cars?”
In a theatrical timbre I announced, “Lady and gentlegal, you may remove your blindfold!”
Her face immediately became flinty. Apparently she wasn’t dazzled by the canal below, or the fungal green sludge within it, or the refuse of civilization lying in the mud, or the road across the ditch. She watched a pancaked can, awakened by the passing of a pair of cars, skittered along the asphalt and tumbled over the grass and down into the ditch.
“This is it?”
“This–is it,” I answered, grinning sheepishly.
“Uh-huh. Which way’s the car?”
“Aww, come on! Give me a chance to explain!” I begged. “Please, my sweet?”
She sat cross-legged in the grass and folded her arms, saying, “You have five minutes.”
I alighted beside her, wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and took in the canal with a gesture. “There’s no better analogy of society than this cesspool right here. There’s the slime and the trash and the muck, and through it all the green grasses trying to grow and live a healthy life in an unhealthy world. You can see how some of them have grown out of the shadows and into the sunlight, while some of them have died and degenerated into so much more mold.”
“How romantic,” she observed sagely.
“It is, but I’ll get to that. Now look at it literally. Where can you find a more outspoken proof of society’s selfish unconcern for anything but itself? And if people aren’t thinking only of themselves, they’re thinking only of humankind. Whatever our particular, narrow-minded outlook is, that’s all we see and all we care about, even if it’s at the expense of sludge-filled canals and forlorn paper plates.”
“I thought you were into finding the beauty in everything?”
“It is beautiful, and I’m getting to that. My point is, it’s important to expand our perspective and broaden our ideas, and free ourselves from the chains of our own prejudices and bigotry. A lot of people consider Christians narrow-minded and self-righteous, and why? Because historically, as a group, we are. God’s law is to love others, but even most Christians are too biased to be truly loving. Knowing God doesn’t make us automatically better than anyone else. It’s what we do with that knowledge that matters.”
It was a sure sign I had said something right when I began to win her over; and I could tell I had in the loosening of her tense muscles and the unfolding of her arms.
“Take this canal,” I went on. “Open your eyes to what it really is. It’s a microcosm and a legend. Each piece of trash is a story.”
She pleated her arms again. “Oh, give me a break.”
“No, but listen to me! You’re seeing the refuse of a society, the symbols of what a human life rejected somewhere along the road. It’s like the actors are gone but we still have the props. A plastic knife means animosities and spites; a broken bottle means desperations and indulgences; an old lipstick casing could mean old romances and lost loves. Everywhere I see tragedies, stories of things lost, like innocence and happiness and idealism. Each piece of trash is the story of someone engrossed by the pettiness of civilization, the lusts of everyday materialism, and the selfishness of society. And they’ve all suffered for it, you can see that.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You can count on it that no happy person would litter. It would be illogical.”
I could tell she agreed, that or she thought I was too far beyond reason to bother arguing. Either way she said, “People are illogical.”
“No, people are irrational. Never illogical.”
“Your time’s up.”
“Give me one more moment. Please? This is the best part.”
“Go ahead,” she said obligingly enough. I could tell any reluctance was bluff; she was like a reader who couldn’t close the book until she’d found out how it ended.
“I see nothing hopeless in all this tragedy and degeneracy. It’s a promise. A promise that there’s something better; because if there wasn’t, what’s the point? It’s a promise that we can make it better. And that promise is fulfilled by the very fact that this scene is already made beautiful by your presence.”
“And that’s it?”
I screwed my eyes up in thought. “That’s it.”
“Which way’s the car?”
“You don’t think it’s beautiful?”
“No,” she said flatly. “But . . . it can be, if we clean it up a bit.”
“Perish the thought! You’re not dressed for it.”
“I will be if you’ll lead me back to the car and we get out the waders, and the raincoats, the gloves, the garbage bags, and all the other stuff you brought for it. Did you seriously think I didn’t notice it in the back? Come on,” she said, unfolding her legs, “let’s get to work.”
Impressed into silence, I caught her by the hand as she tried to get up and did the only thing I could think of: I kissed her then and there, in front of God and a lot of cars roaring by behind me. A passing driver honked and wolf-whistled so loudly we jumped, and the combined forces of energy caused us to lose our balance. We slipped and tumbled head-over-heels into the besludged ditch.