If you time it just right, you can get to our sleepy little town before everyone is out and get your errands and shopping done without the crowds.
Monday was not such a day. Floods of people had all decided it was the best day to be in town and our tiny little infrastructure was just not made for so many. Traffic jams, long lines, flustered clerks and impatient patrons.
I found myself at the edge of crowds everywhere I went.
My daughter and I sat in the lobby of the community college welcome center on Monday, which just happened to be the first day of summer term. Which just happens to be crazy.
Sitting and waiting your turn can be torturous. Clock ticking, phone buzzing, time slipping by unused. Waiting is a discipline.
A woman came in to sign her kids up for summer swim lessons at the college pool. Two tiny twin girls in a double stroller, one toddler strapped to mom’s back, and one big sister, about 5, retrieving the blanket from under the stroller for mom and politely spelling her name and giving her birthdate to the clerk.
Just imagine how long it took that mom to get from the car to this lobby, I whispered to my daughter.
Get out the double stroller. Strap on the baby carrier.
Put the toddler in the pack first? Or the twins in the stroller?
Does her 5 year old unbuckle her own car seat yet? Does she wait patiently? Try to “help”?
What happens when someone needs the restroom?
Mom was tired and burdened and strapped, literally, with children. When she was ready to leave, registration complete, two different people raced to open the door for her. We all had observed her life for just a moment and gained a respect, and opening the door seemed like the best way to honor her patience and the herculean task of getting back to her car.
At the feed store later I parked next to one of those big conversion-type vans. Not a mini-van, by any stretch. The driver must have been 15 or 16, must have had his mom and 2 younger brothers along, must have been navigating town for the first time with all his jitters and nervous head-swinging and one billion other town-goers.
The poor kid had to drive that monster of a vehicle on a blazing summer day, in a town with too little parking and too many people in a hurry.
He began to back out of his spot just as I was ready to leave and I watched him in the mirror. I saw him cut too sharp, saw his mom’s arm waving in front of him, saw his shoulders go up and his face grimace in the cup of his own hands.
I smiled politely, the way I hoped others would when my own child is behind the wheel.
He has to learn and this is the only way to do it – in a crowded place. He has to practice in tight spots with people watching. He needs to stress a little to get the importance of the maneuvers and the life-and-death seriousness of driving that hunk of metal down the road with a billion other souls whizzing by.
He made it out unscathed and my mini-van untouched.
On the freeway, the young are learning what’s safe and how much pressure they can take and the elderly are forgetting turn signals and speed limits and traffic laws. I’m not old and I’m not young but I’m in between them all and practicing patience, being extra aware, trying to make up for their lack of experience or observation.
I’m on the far end of that mom with 4 in tow, with no sleep and a crazy hormonal circus and strangers offering discount-advice.
I’m at the edge of the middle-aged man signing up for community college classes because his life flipped right over and he is going to start again with a younger crowd, fresh from the high school, with cares that only extend to the weekend.
While I’m waiting my turn, I’m trying to see everyone’s story.
Somedays I’m too busy too hurried too self-absorbed and too flustered by the crowd. But sometimes life offers me a seat on the edge and a wait, and when there is no choice but to be an observer, I see people’s stories better and I can be more patient.
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