Last night, I left Oakland just as the sun was setting and arrived in San Francisco minutes later in the deep dark. Boarding the train, I was unable to find a seat and stood near the door next to two taciturn police officers, one of whom nervously checked his watch. Two more stood at the far door of the car. I suppose their presence on the train was supposed to reassure shoppers bound for Market Street, but I was not soothed by the sight of unsmiling men in uniform with guns and tasers strapped to their waists. For a moment, I felt as if I could not breathe.
Exiting the train, I felt so disoriented, so anxious for fresh air, I turned and walked away from my destination and very nearly bumped into a trailer parked on Market St to serve as temporary police station, also meant, I'm sure, to be reassuring but for me unsettling. I find it disturbing there needs to be such a visible and determined police presence. It is, I suppose, indicative of a creeping dis-ease within our society -- both an admission of the increasingly wide gulf between those who have the resources to shop at Nordstrom's or Macy's and a sign of the rising fear that those who don't have will attack those who do have because they, too, want to have. All this emphasis on consumerism has sickened our society. I think of what Ericka Huggins said recently, and I quote loosely, We need to remember we are citizens not consumers. As citizens we care about community and each other; we can open our hearts and be generous. As consumers, we give in to desire and greed.
As shoppers passed by, jovially jostling one another, I looked upward to the sky made blacker deeper darker by the wonderful lights painting with bold strokes color onto the buildings below. I felt grateful for the gift of the light. It was enough to breathe that color, a more delicate and succulent food than any buttery pastry, any savory tart and far more valuable than a diamond encrusted watch.
It will take longer for the return of leaves , but on this night trees are washed with ice blue light and the tiled ground below swept to green with flood lights that transform the dark. We have our nighttime sun above, a glowing orange-lit window dancing with its rays of darker red, but soon soon the noonday sun will grow warmer and brighter and fuller as the season turns. There will be blooming hillsides soon enough.
For now, we must content ourselves with flowers of light, bursting into bloom on pine boughs, barren branches, and sometimes on street cars. This passing bus was peculiarly empty of passengers but nonetheless smiling and cheerful as it laughed its way down the street, avoiding any turmoil.
A patient being.
The neighborhood thugs reared up, acting with a grim meanness that was both cruel and unnecessary.
As the firemen put away their life-saving tools and as the paramedics removed the man to the waiting ambulance, kids in cars decided to assert their authority, confronting the emergency workers by careening at high speeds in the near-by intersection, leaving circular tracks of burned rubber on the pavement.
Thick black smoke engulfed the fire truck and covered the emergency personnel as they quickened their pace, trying to hoist the man into the ambulance before his troubles were made worse by the toxic smoke. That heavy oily smoke lingered for many minutes, settling on trees and flowers, smearing windows and seeping into lungs. Eventually it blew away, but the toxicity of the insensitivity and inherent cruelty demonstrated by these 'doughnutters' cannot be as easily dissipated. They meant the mark left on the street – black circles seared into the pavement created as emergency lights flashed – as a challenge to authority but instead it served us all as a reminder of the loss of heart that is more and more evident in our daily lives. It was an act of violence not of innocence, violence directed not towards individuals but toward the community, their own community. That these kids would choose to pollute the air at a time of great need, when a life hung so precariously in the balance, is both pathetic, shocking, and profoundly sad.