Techniques for balance:
There roams amongst us The Unforgiven. Their crimes are so great that they cannot achieve atonement.
They usually have one main malefactor, who is unceasing in condemnation. Their sins are grave:
It's no wonder that these are The Unforgiven, nor that they have a consistent malefactor. You may be curious about The Unforgiven and the critic. If you are, just look in the mirror.
When I was very young, sometime around 1950, I lived in a densely populated, poor city. We played stickball on the side streets, in between cars, with sewer plates as bases. (First, we had to steal a broom to make a bat….)
I remember the monthly ring of a huge, hand carried bell, as big as a football. A man would wearily walk down the block with a primitive grindstone strapped to a framework on his back. He had to be, even with the exaggerated sense of age the very young have about adults, in his 70s. He slowly rang the bell, the clapper promoting a lonely and melancholy sound above whatever traffic was present.
He would reach the corner and laboriously take the grindstone off his back. Having relieved himself of the burden, he would shout out, “Scissors, knives, sharpen your scissors and knives!!” all the while ringing the bell between shouts. As I watched, windows would open amidst the assembled apartment house window rows like cavities among a set of teeth. Women would wave, indicating that they were on their way down. (Women were home in those days, “keeping house,” raising the kids, preparing dinner.)
“Scissors, knives, a penny each!!” He changed his chant now that he knew he had customers. Each implement was a penny. People had little money, and a scissor or set of knives was meant to last forever, so sharpening them for a penny was a wise investment.
Finally, the women on the lower floors reached him, an advantage of avoiding the lines once those from upper floors descended. His chant finally stopped, his bell was stilled next to him, and he would turn the grindstone in its framework with his foot while holding the implements to be sharpened in his hands. I was astonished at his fearlessness amidst the sparks, and the speed of his work, despite gnarled hands and stooped shoulders. I didn't know what arthritis was, but I did know a tired soul when I saw one.
Each woman would pay their penny or few cents and withdraw with the knives and scissors in their hands, or in a pot, or held basket-like in their aprons. Finally, the line was done. He had made perhaps 25 cents, and he knew that the business on this corner was done for another month or so.
Carefully, he lifted and secured the two tools of his trade, and staggered on up the block. Like clockwork, I could hear the bell peal again in a couple of minutes as he reached the nexus of a new neighborhood, and I’d mouth the words in between the calling of the bell, “Scissors, knives, sharpen your scissors and knives.”
I had no recall of exact times, but I knew that he arrived with periodic regularity. I knew of no one else exactly like him, though we did have door-to-door salesmen, coal delivery trucks, and the ubiquitous milkmen every morning. It was a part of life.
Then, one day, I realized that he had not come in quite a while. No one ever replaced him and I knew, even then, that no one ever would, that he was the last of his kind. I had seen the last moa, the last Tasmanian tiger. I missed him greatly. I missed his hard work, his routine, his ancient grindstone and his huge bell. And I missed the congregation of women who communed briefly on the street while he plied his trade and gave them respite from their labors.
My life is so different today, and I count my blessings. But I know this life is based on so many experiences and memories like the one I’ve recalled here. And sometimes, when the day is just right, the sun is high overhead, and I notice some women on a corner, I can see the shadow of a hard working man, and hear the distant echo of his lonely bell ringing up the street….
I’ve stopped at a light and the other cars have lined up behind me. No one is in the lane next to me, because no one wants to give even the inadvertent suggestion that they want to race from the light against one of the most powerful cars in the world.
Not that I would do that, of course. I’m too mature.
I realize, however, that I need to get into the other lane once the light changes because I promised to pick up coffee for Maria, and she likes the flavors at Dunkin’ Donuts (and I can’t pronounce the sizes at Starbucks). Peripherally, I note that a car has pulled up late in the other lane, hovering in my “blind spot,” and I anticipate that the driver will rush forward when the light changes in an attempt to surprise me.
The light turns green and I give the car a tad extra gas, use my directional signal, and smoothly pull into the other lane, now well ahead of everyone, including the latecomer. I finally check my rear view mirror and see a local police car behind me, which I’ve just managed to race away from and pull in front of.
I meekly wave, sink into the seat, and miss the driveway for Dunkin Donuts….
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