It is So Hard to Tell, Sometimes


A steady rain fell throughout the day. The grass and trees remained still, and when the rains let up, birds moved about. It was one of those rains I remember from my childhood, when it rained all day and I spent it stretched out on the floor watching black and white movies or westerns, and I waited for the weather to pass so I could go outside, where a soft steam rose from the wet streets. Today was like that.

Along the river the rain made the water seem as if it was simmering, or schools of fish teased at the surface. Someday when I look back instead of ahead, it will be days like this I will miss. It was a peaceful day.

At an art show today in which Michael participated, across from his display sat a young woman, a girl of about sixteen, sitting alone at a small table with a display for an organization to help women who have been victims of abuse. She sat quietly looking out at the rain, sat there for four or five hours, reading, not checking her phone, just reading, talking to only a few people who stopped by to pick up information or make a donation. She seemed quite relaxed, watching the rain, reading.

I wondered if people didn’t stop so as not to be recognized as seeking help. It is a very small village and clearly many of the attendees knew each other. I considered perhaps being such a small village in rural Virginia not far from the Potomac and the Chesapeake, abuse was not that common. But I guessed that wasn’t true either.

I wondered if the girl was only a volunteer or was this mission perhaps something more significant to her. She sat so peacefully watching the rain, reading, and talked to the few who came to pick up information. I watched one woman walk away from the table, a brochure in her hand, and it was her last stop before leaving the area. It might be possible the young woman saved someone’s life today. It might be very possible. It is difficult to determine how what we perceive as small actions might be salvation for someone else.

I’m guessing the young woman knows this.

Peace is not easy to identify. Tim O’Brien once wrote of the beauty of Vietnam, staring into the languid green forest, dreamlike in its beauty, before going in to kill or be killed. And anyone who has been near water long enough understands the tow that can drag someone out to sea and drown him lies deep beneath the calm surface.

No wonder tranquility is difficult to come by. Most of us can adjust to the troubles in life so well that we hardly recognize peace at all, so that the slightest relief seems as a tremendous respite. But real peace, the kind that makes us feel safe from harm, is not easy to recognize if it ever comes along at all.

I’ve been fortunate. I have known such peace so often for so long. I have indeed been mercifully fortunate. Sometimes I know where to go to find it, like those early mornings when my son and I head to the water to watch the sunrise; it is a given. Other times it takes me by surprise. Like today, when I walked behind a building, standing under the overhang, and stared across a field of deep green lawn with trees in the distance, and a steady rain fell, not unlike the rains of my youth when worries were still decades away. I was caught off guard; I had been thinking about the young woman, wondering how she came to be at that table, reading, handing out brochures only to those who asked, and then I walked to the back and watched the rain.

Tonight it is raining still, and the steady sound on the skylight has a lulling effect. It was a good day, it was such a peaceful day. But not for everyone.


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