Miller: City stories

Jan 7, 2019 by

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I sit in a departure lounge of Logan International Airport — late, late. Boston’s winter weather is chancy, and today — flying home for a visit — I drew the wrong straw. The lounge is empty except for me, but across the hallway a bartend­er with the dropped-r accent of a Bostonian chats with his customers. The male customer wears a yarmulke. He is slight, dark-haired, soft-spoken — a thinner, more worldly version of Jesus.

Lucinda J. Miller

Miller

The female customers talk about the Ivy League colleges they are attending as freshman. Their accent is bright and sharp, full of “likes” and ambition, a cross between high school and the world.

“I am teaching this class of high school boys how to be gentlemen,” the Jewish man says to the girls. “What are your thoughts — with everything that’s going on these days — about asking permission for sex?”

A mouse runs onto the thin, dark-blue carpet of the lounge where I sit and scurries back and forth, sniffing out crumbs. After a while, a second mouse joins it, and they circle the room together.

I am a mouse, maybe, sitting on the sidelines, furtive, observant — a country mouse in a city world. More and more, though, I grow bold. One day soon I will saunter out — confident, homey — like that bartender with the Boston accent.

— Walking to school one day, a section of street is blocked off and graveled, a horse and carriage parked. A man shovels artificial snow from a wheelbarrow onto the edges of Beacon’s cobblestone sidewalk. Movie cameras, a woman in petticoats, men in suits and top hats. One gentleman swings away from the rest and starts down the sidewalk beside me. “A movie called Little Women,” he says when I ask. And I remember that Louisa May Alcott grew up here in Boston, down a side street I pass every morning on the way to school.

— On the corner of Beacon and Bowdoin, I see a man in a wheelchair whom I haven’t seen for weeks. I used to pass him, when I first came to Boston, almost every morning. I learned then that his name is Bob, and I worried for him and prayed for him when I didn’t see him anymore. Seeing him today for the first time in a long time — funny how natural it feels to give him a hug.

— A gentle mother sits in her living room, surrounded by round-cheeked children, and speaks calmly of her days as a skinhead — when pride was her watchword, when she beat up a man, though she was 17, when drugs and alcohol were better to her than babies, when she communicated with familiar spirits until they got too strong and too evil and wouldn’t listen anymore — and how, in terror, she cried out to God for help. God came, she tells me, and for the first time she knew God loved her.

I look at the innocent faces of her children and wonder that she speaks before them so openly. I admire her for it. They will grow up knowing the power of God.

— A woman with a cup asks for money. “God bless you,” she says as we pass. I think afterward that it was wrong of me to pass her so quickly, head down. She had a story. I could have learned it. Why didn’t I stop and ask?

My dad says every person who comes into our life was put there for a reason: to love us, maybe, if they are lovely, to teach us if they are not. And who knows, in this great shifting ball of a universe, who our lives may impact as we pass.

The Bostonian bartender and the Jewish man never knew I heard their conversation. Bob, the mother, the woman with the cup — each in their own way matter to me. They too are human, and they too live this struggle.

My steps, my words, my actions — written ever so fleetingly on the plotlines of others — may they impact their stories for good.

Lucinda J. Miller lives in Boston. She is the author Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite and blogs at lucindajmiller.com.


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