Why Do We Walk on a Hot Summer Day

why do we walk on a hot summer day - www.alliepottswrites.comI went for a walk the other day.

It was hot, even by my southern standards. The mercury proclaimed the temperature to be somewhere in the mid-nineties. The density of sweat on the back of my neck suggested it was closer to triple digits (or thirty-seven for those who’ve long since abandoned the imperial system).

My children walked next to me until my youngest complained once too many that his feet were tired and was scooped up to be carried by his father. We still had at a mile or so to go.

Finally, we reached our destination. At least I thought it was our destination based on the number of people milling around. I honestly didn’t know.

I’d never gone on a walk like this before.

We lingered as more joined us in the square – bodies pressed together in the limited bits of shadow. Although there was insufficient protection from the morning sun, groups of people climbed up on planters, holding up cameras and snapping pictures of the view. More people arrived. Some shouted, some cheered, while others looked – much as I imagined we must have looked – confused and more than a little out of our depths.

My eldest son’s skin reddened as minutes ticked by. I handed him our single water bottle, encouraging him to drink. He looked up at me and asked for the tenth time that morning, “why are we doing this again?”

I glanced around, keenly aware that more than a few ears might hear what I had to say. “We’re here because this is one way to tell the people who make decisions that we think that certain things aren’t okay.”

“Oh,” he said. “Do you think they’ll listen?”

I looked at my son, who is now almost tall enough to meet my eye. I looked over his shoulder at the group of people holding up posters with witty, yet all too ignorable slogans. I listened to the shouts, some leaning more to the uncomfortable extreme. I looked into my son’s eyes once more. “No, sweetie,” I replied after some internal debate and a deep sigh. “I don’t.”

“Then why are we here?” he asked once more, taking another sip of water.

“Because I couldn’t stay away.”

I considered saying more, but then a siren sounded, a police car moved, and we were underway.

My son reached out and grabbed my hand as the crowd clumped and moved. “I don’t want to lose you,” he said.

I smiled, treasuring the moment in spite of the heat. “I don’t want to lose you either.”

We walked together that way – hand in hand – as a drum continued to play and pockets of individuals restarted their chanting refrains. My palms sweat, clutched so tightly by his, but he let go only to take another sip of water.

While we walked, he’d ask me questions, prompted in some part by the signs he read, which I did my best to answer as objectively as I could, considering the reason we’d left the comfort of our air-conditioned house that day. I wondered along the way if I was making any sense. I worried about how he’d taken my pessimism earlier.

A couple of days later the news showed a mother and daughter hugging each other. My son who’d been playing with his brother at the time looked up at me and smiled. “It worked, Mom. We did that.”

Technically, we hadn’t.

Aside from the fact that meeting of mother and daughter had been set up days to a week or so before, our particular contribution had barely registered as a blip on the news – overshadowed or outshone by bigger stories of the day. But as far as my son was concerned, that hug on the screen was his hug. He returned to his play, proud in the belief he’d made a difference in someone’s life that day.

Maybe he didn’t, but maybe he will.

Maybe someday he’ll go out there and truly make an impact, building on this experience, bolstered by the idea that we can make the world a little better even when it seems impossible. And all we have to do to get started is to simply leave our comfort zone once in a while, or get off the couch and try.

And that is why we walked on a hot summer day.

To my fellow Americans, I hope you all had a safe and happy Independence Day.

Hope and graduation

The past week was a bit of a blur and part of me is grateful for that. Too much it seems was going on in the world. I am rather glad I missed most of it. Tuesday was my brother’s high school graduation and while not everything had gone entirely to plan in the days leading up to the big event, things had begun to finally work themselves out.

We made our way into the arena where the ceremony would take place. Though it was only midmorning, the weather was already hot and humid, however, thanks to my grandfather’s attendance (and his handicap placard) we didn’t have to walk far. I scanned the program while we waited. There were over six hundred names in total, double that of my graduating class. We might as well get comfortable.

The orchestra began to play as we rose for the national anthem. Most of us stood in silence, preferring to let the trained voices of the chorus do their work. But not my grandfather. At 101, he belted out the lyrics as proudly as if he was a superfan at a rock concert (something by the way he’d never willingly attend – he’s more of a jazz man). Then it was on to Pomp and Circumstance, as the graduates filed into the building dressed in their black robes and graduation caps.

After what felt like ages, I saw my brother enter. We shouted and waved, but we weren’t quite loud enough to capture his attention. I saw him scan the crowds looking for us, but not matter how much I jumped, waved, or made silly faces, he just kept scanning. Sometimes my lack of height really is a disadvantage.

The crowds sat as the principal took the podium. Due to the number of names that needed to be called, she asked that we keep our applause to a minimum so that all students and their families might have an opportunity to hear their names called.

I saw my brother rise and get into line at the stage. I fiddled with my camera’s zoom readying to make the shot. I zoomed too much and couldn’t find him. I looked away from the viewfinder, but without the zoom, the distance was too far to make out which of the uniformly clad individuals was him. I heard my brother’s name called. What? Is he already crossing the stage? I was stunned. My grandfather cheered. At 101, it is amazing what rules no longer apply. His cheers snapped me out of my stunned silence and I shouted a quick whoop as my brother took his diploma and made his way back to his seat.

graduation ceremony
And like that, my brother is a graduate

As we exited the arena, an announcement requested that we vacate as quickly as possible in order to allow the next series of graduates to enter the building. They wouldn’t be the last either. Graduation ceremonies will run throughout the next several days filled with speeches about hope, pride, and opportunity, even if flavored with a bit of nostalgia regarding what is being left behind.

I couldn’t help wondering what my grandfather must think of speeches about new beginnings at his age. Did the nostalgia now outweigh the hope and promise? His phone rang as we maneuvered out of the parking lot. His wife, seated by my side, smiled as she listened to the conversation. She leaned over to me. “His brother-in-law is 104 you know.” I, wide-eyed, assured her I didn’t. “Oh yes, and one of your grandfather’s old girlfriends, who is 102, is at the same assisted living center.” She laughed. “Your grandfather has been trying to set them up for the past couple of years, but she doesn’t seem to want to return his calls.”

Clearly, hope, pride and opportunity are not limited to only the graduate, so use them well, and use them often.