OrdinaryTimes 1.28-Peer-Ifery

Ask me and I’ll tell you that I prefer to hang around the periphery rather than nearer center stage. You may accuse me of slinking or lurking, or even of reenacting the tarot’s five of pentangles, peering in through the church window when I could just go inside. I think of myself as a witness, an observer rather than a player. Last weekend when everyone else was playing a game of kooky kickball, joining the game didn’t even occur to me. I sat on the periphery providing color commentary instead.

I tell myself that I can get better perspective out there, and I swear this declaration is usually true. I do sometimes feel like one of those starving street urchins who can’t seem to figure out how to belong. Most of my direct experience has not been of the hands-on variety, but I am not a kinetic learner. I learn more from watching than I do from touching, and most from listening rather than talking myself. Reading isn’t vicarious experience for me, but direct. My head is the center of my universe.

Security checkpoints pose a particularly strong reinforcement for me to avoid entering. Here in DC, every public space is ringed with black or blue-suited ‘personnel,’ casting the distinct aura of a police state. I know I’m expected to quietly submit, but I feel deep outrage when asked to open my knapsack for inspection then have to pass through some blinking device twice because my shoelace eyelets set the damned thing off. Beltless, shoeless, pockets emptied into a convenient rubberized bowl, I limp to the periphery to redress in public, feeling humiliated; hazed.

The price of entry seems to be something very close to my soul, so I often choose to stay on the periphery and peek in the window rather than humiliate myself by going inside. I know everyone else in there had to pass through the same gauntlet, most not thinking even once about it. I think twice and turn around. When I see one of those tell-tale queues, I’m usually gone.

I spend quite a bit of my OrdinaryTimes avoiding choke points. Last weekend, we happened upon the Little League World Series’ traffic jam in Willamsport, Pennsylvania. The Muse quickly plotted a course around it, and though we might have driven a lot farther as a result, we were moving, not stuck. The Friday evening jazz concert in the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden was a frequent destination for us until they started securing the area. Now, The Muse and I walk by then decide to go for a long walk instead.

And yesterday, intending to attend the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington celebration, I’d somehow naively neglected to recognize that even The Mall might become a secure area for that. I spent a few seething moments wondering—genuinely wondering—why the goons had Seventeenth street barricaded and fenced, letting through only first responders escorting sweating, woozy old folks who’d swooned out in the humidity and kids they’d busted for acting out. When would they open that gate for me? I finally realized that they’d provided a narrow passage with perhaps three metal detectors, and the burgeoning bubble of a chaotic crowd was actually a makeshift queue and that I was looking at an hour or so of jostling as the price of admission through that secure gate, and then I’d be imprisoned inside, under scrutiny, slave to the very few water fountains and rest rooms I knew were on the inside.

I turned around then and headed to a safe periphery, The Jefferson Monument; an old favorite. There, I found a place on a marble bench, listening to the proceedings on my iPod’s radio and hearing the reverberating echo from the center stage over a mile away. I sat out of the rain squall, in the shadow cast from the great man’s statue, reflecting on freedom. I noticed that everyone stood a little taller upon entering that space, and that to read the inscriptions on the wall forced each to hold their head up high and look up from some distance. I watched for nearly an hour to confirm my first impression. Yes, reverence standing tall, looking up from a distance, almost on the periphery, that’s how freedom manifested there.

I felt like I was sneaking out of church as I made my way to the Metro, ceremony still echoing behind me. I listened to Clinton’s speech from the last seat on the train, Washington receding out the window. And I heard the President speaking while I stripped out of my sweat-drenched jeans to stand in a cold shower as if to wash away the slightly discouraging day. I knew that had I stayed I would have still been another couple of hours away from home, and felt a slight twinge of regret.

Did I attend the celebration? Well, no, not really, I stood on the periphery listening in. What might I tell my grandchildren about the experience? I saw the line of limos parked along the Tidal Basin and heard the distant roar of cheering applause echo off the Dr. King monument and the Bureau of Engraving building. I saw The Mall drain its usual summertime crowds into its western end, and the eastern end turn into a ghost town, DC proper transformed into periphery to the roaring crowd within it.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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