This is what I saw ...
by Mari A. Lee
As I walked the blocks to the park where I stretch each morning I saw a man with a waist length white beard, round black glasses, and a walking stick. As we passed one another he said, “’Mornin’” like he does whenever I see him. I get a peaceful feeling from this man.
As I stretched at the park warming up for the road ahead, I saw a man playing catch with a black scotty dog in the dry grass of the baseball field. The dog looked happy to be out. As I bent over to stretch, I saw the man ogle me. His ogling eyes felt creepy. I turned to face him and stretched in his direction. I saw that he saw that I saw that he had ogled me, and he turned away only glancing back a couple of times as he and his scotty dog went on their way.
As I walked along my familiar path through the oak trees and picnic benches, I saw a squirrel race toward me, puff up his tail, and dart up a tree to peek down at me. He reminded me so much of the kitten Harry that I absentmindedly burst out, “Come here you cute kitten!” which made me chuckle at myself and shake my head.
As I walked up the street to the row of primitive bougainvillea that I like to stroll through, a blonde lady at a stop sign looked annoyed for having to pause as I crossed. I have been that lady before, so I gave her a smile and a little wave. She did not look amused. That is ok. I have been un-amused a time or two myself. I get it.
As I walked through the massive bougainvillea I saw a shadow of myself in front of myself. I noticed how my love handles jiggle so I pinched them back to make a skinnier shadow. When I did this I noticed that my shadow arms looked kind of jiggely too, so I stopped doing that. My shadow legs looked pretty good I thought, so I decided to focus on my shadow legs.
As I waited to cross the next street, I saw a young mother tiredly pushing a stroller. When she stopped next to me I glanced over and said, “Good Morning” and she smiled and said something about the heat in Spanish. I smiled and made a gesture as if I were wiping sweat off my brow. Because I had on a baseball hat I think it looked more like a salute. I saw her little boy staring at me as he reached out and pointed at my bright pink tennis shoe laces and giggled. I made a fish face at him, and the mom giggled too.
As I walked down a neighborhood street chasing the shade, I saw an older man with an older dog smoking on his porch [the man not the dog]. I saw him see me seeing him smoking. It seemed that he looked embarrassed so I placed a friendly non- judging look on my face as I held my breath. As I passed by he called out, “Sure is hot already” but because I was holding my breath, I could only grunt and smile. His dog gave a sharp “WOOF” at my grunt, and the man grumbled to his dog, “Oh woof woof to you old dude!” The man said “woof woof” in such a dog woofy kind of a way that it made me laugh. Which made him laugh [the man not the dog]. And as I laughed I breathed in his smoke. It was worth it.
On another street further along, I saw a house I pass several times a week, for several years. There is a small plastic black and red sign tacked onto the peeling wooden gate that says, “Beware of Cat!” with a bristling hissing cartoon cat. I keep my eye out for this cat, because, 1. I like cats and 2. Who wouldn’t want to see a bristling hissing attack cat like that? But day after day, year after year there is no cat and I had settled some time ago that the cat did not exist, or existed at one time, or that the occupant must have a funny sense of humor. Until today. Today I saw the famous cat who happened to be lounging right under the “beware of cat” sign. I stopped and with hands on hips I stared down at the cat. She was grey and white, very clean, and well, there is no kind way of stating this, this attack cat was quite portly. The only thing this kitty had recently attacked was her kibble bowl. No insult intended. The cat gazed back up at me, and her eyes spoke a message that was loud and clear: “Yeah, and?” I smiled at her and murmured, “You do not look so terrifying you know.” The cat yawned. She has clearly had enough of those kinds of remarks. I understand.
As I marched up the hill, the hardest part of my walk, the part where I sweat, feel kind of cranky, and realize that I could turn around at anytime, a couple rounded the corner walking gently toward me. They were elderly, Indian, and even though it was nearly 90 degrees at 8:30 AM, they looked cool and serene. He had a crisp white shirt and shining leather sandals, she was wearing a gorgeous yellow and pink sari, several pretty twinkling bracelets, and her hair was coiffed beautifully. I offered a smile as I trudged by panting in my faded target T-shirt, shorts and old baseball cap, feeling slightly repulsive and hoping I did not have B.O. They held their gaze steadily toward the ground. My B.O and I felt grateful for their grace.
Turning down a quiet lane that promised shade, I walked alone for a while, cooling off and I saw the wild flowers, the palm trees, the grapefruit trees, the weeping willow that I love, giant rosemary bushes and twisty trunked trees. I saw the San Gabriel Foothill Mountain rise up in front of me, a little worse for wear after the terrible fire that scorched his face earlier in the year. But I love my mountain in any state. I was by myself so I called out with enthusiasm, “Hi Mountain, you’re looking good today!” I am pretty sure I would have said this even if there were people around to hear. I am weird that way.
As I began the trek back to my home, I heard pounding behind me, and I saw a man about my age running very fast toward me, covered in sweat. His spirit felt serious and focused. He seemed to be overcoming something important as he whipped by me. In the wake of his energy I began to reflect on serious things of my own. I found myself wrestling with a current situation of potential grief and loss. I found myself talking to God, and as I did, my inner child rose up to walk with me.
As I stumbled along in this state for a little while, I saw a large brown feather. I walked past it, picking up my pace, feeling somewhat chastised by the running man. But then I stopped, turned around, walked back and picked up the feather. There are peacocks in the area and I am always on the look out for a peacock feather but have never been lucky enough to find one. I knew from the size and shape that this feather was a peacock feather! Just not the beautiful dazzling blue and green male tail feather. This was the feather of a female. A plain, brown, female peacock. She had left her feather for me to find. It felt like a sign so I picked it up. And as I stood there holding the feather, I saw myself trying to make up a symbolic meaning. I felt sad that nothing was coming to mind, but then I gave myself permission to allow this to be a talisman that over time would reveal what the meaning was. I felt peaceful giving myself permission not to have to figure it all out just yet. And I began to walk again.
As I walked with my peacock feather, I saw the way I held it carefully away from me because my hands and arms where hot and sweaty. I did not want to mess up my feather. I held it out in front of me right by the tip. As I walked down through the village this way I saw people driving by and looking out of their car windows at me, a middle aged lady holding a big brown feather in front of her in nearly 100 degree heat. I smiled and waived my feather around a little bit. All but one person looked quickly away, a young woman with purple hair on a scooter. She gave my feather and me a thumbs up which made my heart smile. So I held my feather with more confidence.
As I walked further along the village main street, I saw the same group of old men who gather each day at their table. A couple of them gave me a once over appreciatively. Not in the creepy scotty dog owner at the park way, but in a way that left me feeling kind of young, fit, and “hot” as in cute, instead of invisible, jiggely and “hot” as in sweaty. Which I was. As I passed by their table, one of the ancients remarked, “Nice feather there!” I said, “Yes, I just found it, I really like it too! “ And waived it around a bit to show it off. They chuckled and returned to their discussion. I saw myself in their eyes. And I liked what I saw.
As I walked past a little shop I saw the Indian couple from earlier sitting quietly on a shady bench. As I passed, the woman looked at my feather, smiled, looked up at me and nodded. I smiled and nodded too.
As I stood at the cross walk, the only light I have to navigate on my walk, I saw two construction workers sitting on the curb eating donuts out of a pink box and drinking coffee. The coffee smelled good, and I swallowed my desire to run over and see what kind of donuts they had. I gently reminded my inner child who happens to love donuts that today was not a donut day. My inner child reminded me not so gently that every day should be a donut day. We went back and forth like this until one of the men said to the other, “I heard it was 106 degrees in Covina yesterday.” His friend replied, “That is too fucking hot.” I silently agreed. It was too fucking hot. "Thankfully we have a cool feather!" my inner child reminded me. My inner child is wise.
As I crossed to the library where I do my last stretches before heading home, I placed my feather carefully on the wall where I stretch my legs. I was worried for a moment that my feather might fly away. But then I reminded myself that it is a big feather, and it was a feather that was left for me to find. After I set it down I could tell it was not going anywhere. So I stretched.
As I reached out to touch my toes, as I stretched my arms and hips, I saw myself in the glass of the library window. I saw me. I saw my feather. I saw a child of God. I saw my 52-year-old body. I saw areas of age, and areas of strength. I saw an imperfect person, a work in progress. I saw beauty, and resilience, I saw fear and courage, I saw the dark and the light, I saw my child self and my old self. I saw me. I saw gratitude. I saw God.
As I walked down my own street, to my small century old home, my nest of two decades, the one with the comfy porch that hangs out under the protection of the massive Chinese elm, I saw myself moving both in time and back in time. Walking through my arched gate, and up the steps to my front door, I realized that I had seen myself all along my walk...in the old man with the white beard, the happy scotty dog, the creepy park man, the playful squirrel, the angry lady at the stop sign, the tired young mother and her child, the smoking man with his woofy dog, the attack cat, the quiet Indian couple, the serious troubled running man, the fearless purple haired scooter girl, the gang of village ancients, the cursing construction workers, and...the woman in the library window holding on to a feather left just for her.
Mari A. Lee, LMFT, CSAT-S