Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Secret of Everything

L.G.C. Smith

So. Religion. In 500 words or fewer. Really? I can’t do it.

Instead, I’m resorting to one of my stories. I’m old enough to repeat myself if I feel like it, so here goes.

In my first year of grad school at Cal, I arrived late to campus one spring morning after a gutting fight with my husband. I don’t remember what it was about, but it was the kind of fight that made me wonder what the hell I had been thinking to marry this person, and what ever possessed me to think I had the slightest inkling of who he was inside because clearly, I didn’t, and my judgment was so wildly off the mark as to call into question everything I ever thought I knew about anything.

I know what was wrong now. He had bipolar disorder. At the time, however, as I parked in the Northside lot and scuttled down to the corner of Euclid and Hearst to cross onto campus, I despaired. Something was wrong, very, very wrong, and no amount of therapy or constructive action on my part seemed to make any difference.

As I reached the crosswalk, the light turned red, and I was stuck in front of a bakery with a homeless guy with a big beard and a little collection box for the Berkeley Free Clinic. My guard down, I made eye contact.

He smiled. He didn’t ask for my spare change. “What’s your favorite shape?”

Well, that was a different approach. “A triangle,” I said.

“What’s your favorite color?”


He pointed to the sky behind the redwoods to the west of the North Gate. “Look up.”

I did.

He traced a triangle with one finger against the clear blue sky. “There’s a blue triangle for you. Love and fear. That’s all there is. You decide.”

The light turned green and I went to my class, and on with my imperfect marriage and my own deep flaws and foibles. Those words have never left me.

Three short sentences spoken in a profane and painful moment, with the humble gift of an imagined blue triangle sketched in the air bore a lesson as resonant as the teachings of the world’s greatest religions.


Sophie Littlefield said...

oh lynn, i can imagine how that must have felt! i'm kind of glad there was a sidewalk philosopher there for you that day. it's odd, the places where we find our bits of truth, isn't it?

Rachael Herron said...

What a gorgeous, heartbreaking story. I absolutely love it. Thank you for sharing.
Love and fear. That's all there is. You decide.
(I'm not getting over this soon...)

wrtrmaus said...

Thank you for this, it hit me where I live today.

Karen said...

Oh, now that was lovely. Thank you for sharing.

Tom Neely said...

Thank you. Now I have a mantra I can get behind and can retire "Try not to suck." Great story.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Tom, there's a lot to be said for "Try not to suck." Very serviceable. :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

I love this. But it makes me wonder...what would he have done if I'd asked for a red circle? Love and fear, indeed...

L.G.C. Smith said...

Juliet, probably traced a circle against a red car stopped at the light? But who knows. I don't mess with mystery when it comes in such perfect nuggets.

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