Tuesday, December 06, 2005

One thing you can't hide . . .

After reading Colin’s invitation to consider the impact that others have on our everyday lives in “Maybe everybody else already does this,” my thoughts went more easily instead to the small impact that I have on other people’s daily lives … did I cut someone off in traffic, or did I leave a space and wave someone in? Did I treat the woman at the Au Bon Pain counter in a perfunctory way, tossing money at her and saying “thank you” in a monotone, or did I meet her eye and smile and say “good morning”? Did I hold the elevator for the guy running to get on, or press the “close” button because I was in a hurry? (OK, I really don’t ever do that. That’s not nice. I have pressed the “close” button a few times by accident, because I can’t seem to quickly interpret those little symbols of line-arrow-line, or arrow-line-arrow, or whatever. I feel sincerely sorry when that happens.)

What about actual people that I know or see? In this office, I have kept to myself quite a bit until this year – I tended not to say “hi” to someone walking down the hall toward me, or at the water fountain, or waiting in the elevator lobby, but I do try from time to time to reach out.

Years ago, I reached out often. I think I was known as a very friendly, nice person by just about everyone who I came in contact with. I let my “real self” be known – I had opinions, or at least thoughts, that I would share with whomever I happened to be talking to. I felt that I was being the best person that I could be to others – there was no wall, no reticence, no wariness. My mother once told me that I was naïve, but I don’t think it had the intended affect on me – I thought it was kind of a sweet thing, to be naïve, to expect goodness from people and ignore the bad. I guess I still think it is, but I am much older and “wiser” now, and more realistic. I still give people the benefit of the doubt, and I still believe that even obviously flawed people – OK, that’s everyone, right? – have some positive, enriching part of themselves to uncover.

So then I read Peter Naboicheck’s response to Colin’s post, and wow – there’s someone else who loves John Lennon! I was born on John Lennon’s 22nd birthday, and I have always felt a bond with him. I’m sure a lot of people did and do, but I always felt like his life and values and decisions were an example to me because of our shared birthday. It was heartening to read such an honest, sincere reaction to him. Thanks, Peter.

I was in Wilmington, NC when John Lennon was shot. I was staying in a trailer on the Sound, with the family of a boyfriend. These people were down-home Southerners, and I must have seemed like quite an alien to them at the time, but they were very kind to me while I lived there, from August 1980 through December 1980. I can’t remember the mom’s name, but she worked in an office during the day and taught me how to cut up a chicken and fry it. The dad’s name was Horace and he worked in an office supply store – back before there were chains like Office Max, etc. – fixing typewriters. I had a job at the mall, in a clothing store, but wasn’t scheduled to work on Tuesday, December 9. My boyfriend and his dad sat up watching Monday night football, but I could only stand so much of it, so I went to bed. In the morning, everyone had left for work before I got up, so I got a bowl of cereal and sat down in the tiny living room to watch TV. (I had become quite a fan of a strange new daytime talk show hosted by a goofy young man named David Letterman. Dave and I are linked by that, too.) I turned on the TV, and switched to CNN, and there was a scroll on the bottom of the screen that said that John Lennon had been shot and killed the night before in New York City. I think I lost my breath and thought, that can’t be true! It was a nightmare moment when a small part of you is receiving some horrible news, and the rest of you is saying, no, that’s not true, it can’t be. The TV went to commercials then, so I stumbled outside, my mind reeling, to find the newspaper (why didn’t the family get the newspaper before they left for work? I don’t know, but it was outside in one of those plastic mailboxes). I don’t remember if it was on the front page – it probably was, wasn’t it? I don’t know. I was stunned. And bereft. I had loved the Beatles all through high school, ten years after they had broken up and everyone else had gone onto “southern rock” and Van Halen. I owned every one of their albums, and several solo albums of John’s and George’s. I had embroidered the symbol for “om” on the back pocket of my groovy faded patched jeans, and I had round sunglasses a la Lennon. I learned to pick out “Imagine” on any piano that I came across. He was a touchstone in my life, an icon, and I couldn’t believe he was … gone.

The following Sunday, Yoko held a memorial in Central Park, as I recall, and I swore that if I was in Connecticut I would have gone. As it was, I was stuck in the marshland of North Carolina, where I don’t know if anyone recognized John Lennon as anything other than a childhood memory of a moptop in a black suit. The afternoon was to include – was it two minutes, ten minutes? - of silence at 2:00, or something like that? In old southern style, the parents had a big dinner every Sunday at 2:00, and grace was intoned over the meal, then we’d eat. You were not late for these affairs. You came to the table – the tiny kitchen table in the little trailer - dressed in something decent with your hands clean. My tears flowed as I explained to my boyfriend that I could not, would not miss this tribute, however small and distant and anonymous, to my working class hero. He didn’t understand but he said he’d explain to his parents. I sat in my tiny bedroom and rocked, thinking of all the things….

Later that week, we made a pilgrimage to the record store at the mall where I worked and solemnly bought John’s new album. The record store took full advantage of the circumstances, having restocked all of John’s solo albums and replenished the Beatles’ bin as well. I listened to the album several times in those next few weeks, each time like a spiritual event, a mass, and then when I had memorized it, I stopped playing it. It was too sad to hear his gentle, insightful words over the horror of his murder.

A few – or several? – years ago, PBS had a Beatles special on over a few nights, and I watched it fervently. So much of it was familiar, and it was wonderful to relive learning it all again. I thought again, as the credits rolled, of the day I found out that John died, and how devastated I was. I went to sleep that night, and had a dream about him. In my dream, I was laying in bed, asleep, and I woke up to find John standing next to my bed. He was smiling, and saying, or somehow conveying to me, that it’s all right, he was OK, and not suffering or sad. He understood my sadness, and seemed to acknowledge the tragedy of his death, but assured me that he had gone on from it, in that mysterious way that the dead have. Sensing that he was leaving, I told him I loved him, tears in my eyes, and he smiled and said he loved me too. It felt so real, at the time I did not refer to it as a dream – it felt more like a visit. I woke up the next morning and I felt like something important had happened. I accepted his death.

I still think of him every October 9, and idly listen for a radio station to play one of his songs – usually “Imagine” – and announce to who? who doesn’t know when it’s John Lennon’s birthday? in a momentarily serious voice, what the day means. For John, and those of us like-minded, I carry on.