Sunday, January 23, 2011

An Eternal Smile

The room is not crowded, though it is narrow and so the short queue snakes around a shelf or two.  I inhale the familiar aroma of roasted beans, morning papers and freshly baked muffins.  The sun is nearly kept out by the overhung roof but not completely, marking a bright spot here and there on the otherwise dark walls the color of melting coco.  The soft sizzles and clicking of the Barista's cups and steamers bring you back into reality and remind you that this isn't the depth of a warm forest, where coffee, vanilla and coco plants grew around you and reach your nostrils with their tantalizing flavor tentacles.

The family of three is sitting around a small table by the window.  The father's face obscured by the paper he is reading, while mom is holding up a best selling chick lit with the tell tale pink and purple palette splashed on the cover.  Your eyes however, are drawn to the little girl, with her back to us, facing the window sitting in between her parents.  She is wearing a blue satin dress with a white sash.  The kind Julie Andrews sang about in the Sound of Music, the kind that makes you happy when you are feeling sad

Christina-Taylor Green
Though it isn't immediately apparent she is either one of those things, sad or happy, as her attention is focused entirely on the paper drawing in front of her.  She is making a picture of tribute for another little girl, the youngest victim in the recent Arizona Shooting, as so titled on the top of her page.  She is outlining a most strikingly beautiful young face, full of hope, with the kind of smile that transcends borders, boundaries, and politics.  It bears no mark of ever having seen hatred or anger, the sort that took her from her family, her community and her future.  A future not perfect or even rosy, yet less horrific because of people like her who cared, even when they were so young, and the world was still trying to "teach" them how to navigate the grittier aspects of life. 

I disliked the word "victim" that has been associated with her and the others who lost lives in the incident.  It is a tragedy, yet I can't help wanting to find victory in their stories and their lives which are not defined by the sudden loss. Or perhaps that is the only way someone like me could cope with something like this, a peer at a different angle at a brighter side of the past.

In reading about her, I learned of her passion and reasons for her being at the scene.  I am ashamed to admit that it would be hard to imagine myself caring enough at age nine (or even now) to attend a political rally, as I couldn't even be bothered to vote for years.  Serving my citizenry responsibility in a jury or something equally important had seemed like a nuisance, too busy I was with work, family, and more work.  I didn't stop to look around the walls of my office, let alone through the windows to the world beyond.  I read news only when they are passed to me through viral media, trusting the wisdom of the crowd to select out only those that are worthy of my precious time.

Perhaps I am not a political animal, but in a democratic society, I own the privilege and the responsibility to shape the system in a way so that I cared. In my reliance on the crowd, I had lost that child like curiosity once made me so dreamily creative, as nothing was impossible and the world was mine to discover, shape and invent.  I had gradually reduced to connect myself with the planet through familiar routines, people I knew and comfort zones. That zone has shrunk considerably over the years, into a virtual bubble of a few square miles and a few dozen people.  While I ventured outside occasionally,  I vested little interest, effort or time away from home.  So perhaps that is at least one sensible distinction between tragedy and triumph in our lives, not how big a pot of gold you've collected, or how high you rested on the ladder of success, as the higher you are, the worst your likely fall would surely be, but in how deep and wide your care can spread, outside of the immediacy of self or even the little bubble of familiarity we all create for ourselves. 

A few college students sit nearby working on their labtop and brick like text books, pink iPOD wires growing out of their ears, heads bobbing, oblivious to the scene besides them.  I see no familiarity in them, yet I recognize that zeal to complete the task set before them, to move one step closer towards that forever dangling prize hanging just above my nose.  I remember seeing the prize moving as soon as I got close. So I'd try harder to catch up, never realizing that the faster I went, the faster it moved, a dog snapping at the shadow of its own tail, a hamster traveling furtively on the wheels towards nowhere.  Somehow it feels like stepping out when I found myself here, staring at a group of strangers who reminds me so much of myself.  

I look again at the drawing,  a childish but talented depiction of an unblemished smile.  It is no Mona Lisa, but eternal just the same.  A smile that is unfamiliar to me.  I was apparently grumpy at that age for never having enough to eat, to play with, or what have you.  Not that there were greater wealth around with which to compare and compete, but it didn't stop the bratty fits to kick in during those young years.  I prided on my ability to complain and "win my case" by then, my parents threatened to send me to law school so I could put the "talent" of finding faults and win arguments into profitable use.  But perhaps they saw through me in the end, that I didn't have the nerves and the persistence required for law after all, giving up as soon as the opponents grew beyond the loving indulgent circles of my family.

I don't know why neither the artist nor her parents ever turned to look at me, and drive me away in shame.  They must know that I was staring.  In my prying eyes, the artist who is doing her subject so much justice is around the same age, and just as docile, sweet, innocent, vulnerable, yet just as fearless in her looks to the past before pushing towards the future.  She checks in with her parents with quick upward glances, causing them to stop, smile and nod at her effort.  Yet they resisted injecting their own thoughts, which I know takes considerable more patience than wisdom though plenty of both are required.  They left it entirely to their talented daughter to imagine, to relate and to express, putting wings on her spirits, danced out before me in ink, blurs of shapes and colors.

A tragic triumph that warrants no tears but a smile, one that outlasts the trivial pursuits of my day, and maybe a bit longer.


  1. The media coverage was so much on the congresswoman that nothing much about the young girl was mentioned in Indian media. Fitting tribute to the young one.

  2. What a beautiful tribute the young girl who died in Arizona.

  3. What a wonderful story. You are a keen observer of the world around you. Your story was a fitting tribute, but it was also interesting. You have writng talent. Your imagery had me feeling like I was there watching the little girl. You also put some of yourself in the story. Thanks for a great read.

  4. Amazing! You truly are a talented writer with an enormous talent for observing and describing people.
    I loved this story.

  5. Wow. What a wonderfully told story. I like how you've made it into something beautiful. I think it does better justice to what happened. Of course it's sad. But, why leave on a negative note when this little girl's life can help enrich other's, can help us see things differently? ))

  6. Shopgirl - ever so thoughtful and observant. What a deep and moving piece. I believe this event left a mark on us all. Not just THE event, but the fallout, as well.
    Really, I think your best piece yet. ;)

  7. great post. you have me hooked at the very beginning. i can see myself in the coffeeshop and inahle the aroma of coffee. i was touched with your thoughts, about the girl.. i feel so moved, sad.. i don't know what to say but i'm smiling.

  8. You told the story very well. You are becoming a story teller. Excellent.

  9. runawaybride - It is good to know that I filled a void, though I wish there wasn't one to begin with. I've missed your comments!

    Angela - A high praise from a wonderful writer / poetess like you.

    Just like you - Thank you for such kind and well considered comments. I am still learning so it is always encouraging to hear such positive feedback.

    Starlight - You always know what to say to lift up my day.

    Trisha - Perhaps it is the eternal quest of finding blessings at work. I'm convinced she is smiling at us from somewhere trillion times more beautiful than where we are.

    Jayne - thanks. I do have to work pretty hard on being thoughtful in my blogs. So give it some time. :)
    It does open my eyes to more things around me.

    Maria - I always like having you visit, I will work on more commentable posts soon though. :)

    Barbra - Thanks you too!

  10. For such a young life to be cut short is such a tragedy.




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