By Shae Davidson
(With apologies to Myōe)
How have you been since the last time I saw you? I apologize for not visiting since my last trip home. Even though I haven’t been able to make time to drop by, I still think about the lessons you taught me, and hope to reflect them in the choices I make each day.
My first lesson in art came from your pavement. Patches of oil dotted the parking lot in the late 1970s, twisting and whirling as they followed the gentle contours of the pavement. The glistening colors fascinated me, and taught me to recognize beauty beyond structure–beauty that existed because of its flaws rather than despite them. Thin streams of oil running across your surface and into gutters and nearby lawns also taught me that apparent pleasures can be intertwined with danger and destruction.
In second grade you taught me that compassion and generosity are always available.
My mom and I were in the checkout lane, a small Lego firetruck sitting in the cart as a reward for making it through a long evening of errands. A heavy rain had settled in while we were shopping, and as we walked to the exit we saw a mother and daughter waiting by the door. They had no car, and were waiting for someone they knew to give them a ride home or money for a payphone. My mom immediately offered them a ride.
She inspired me to tear open the new toy when we got to the car so the girl could play with it. The girl ran her hand through the pieces and examined some of the shapes. At eight years old I couldn’t even begin to describe my thoughts when I realized that she had never played with Legos. You taught me about generosity, and also about privilege.
I’ll never forget your lesson on mindfulness and awareness.
I had just passed my driver’s test and was visiting you by myself for the first time. A spring breeze whipped across your pavement as I began to walk back to my parents’ car. The wind caught the shopping carts scattered between the cars and lackadaisically clustered under lamp posts. They twitched and began rolling. The carts didn’t sail in straight lines as the breeze pushed them forward. The zigzagged, following the whims of screeching unbalanced wheels. I started the car and took a deep breath. No radio. No thinking about where I wanted to go next. Just steady breaths and both hands on the wheel until I made my way through the carts and back to the road home.
I remember the kind-hearted way you explained vanity and self-acceptance. When I started going bald in high school I bought a collection of garishly-colored bandanas to wear. Their prints shone through the plastic bag that sat on the seat next to me as I started the car, standing in sharp contrast to your muted grey pavement. I didn’t take the lesson to heart at the time, but one day I looked at myself in the mirror and asked what I was doing as I started to tie a lurid bit of cloth around my head in a confused effort to avoid standing out.
I cherish all of the lessons you shared with me. I hope to visit soon and thank you in person, standing in front of empty stores to feel the warmth radiating up from the pavement and listen to the gentle hum of cars passing by on the road leading back into town.
With deepest respect,
Historian Shae Davidson has worked in industrial and social history museums throughout Appalachia and has taught in West Virginia, Ohio, and Illinois. Shae’s past publications have included articles in Turning Wheel and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory.
Editor: Dana Gornall