© 2008 Karen Van Fossan
This is an ode to the orange thingy. Probably, you've seen it, or one like it. You have to admit, it's orange. Painted that way. Spray paint most likely. Not a thingy, really. More like a place, a spot. A section of the sidewalk that was wrecked by some type of accident. And now, this location, this dangerous location, has been carefully painted orange. (For my protection. Your protection. One person looking out for the next.) Maybe by someone who was hurt there already. Tripped, fallen, skinned their knee. Or maybe this person's auntie. She doused that spot in orange before the next set of knees came skipping past. Or it could be Parks and Rec. A worker from Parks and Rec, with grandkids of her own who walk, skate, bike, tease, and loiter on this sidewalk. She arrived at the scene with a can of paint and a purpose.
So I'm watching the cars (and bumper stickers) sputtering past the park. If you can read this, thank a teacher. That's one. Freedom isn't free! That's another. And all of a sudden, everything comes together. The orange thingy, the bumper stickers, my life. It all makes sense.
For me, it comes down to lightbulbs. Saturday morning, I'm strolling around my neighborhood. Not too far from the orange thingy. Doing my best to give away free lightbulbs. Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs. CFLs for short. The kind that reduce carbon emissions and help stop global warming. Courtesy: Sierra Club. And I'll be perfectly clear. The bulbs are 100%, no-money-down, no-questions-asked, entirely, totally free.
But the woman across the street, she can't come to the door, isn't dressed, she says. The guy up the block, well, CFLs won't fit in any fixtures in his house, garage, or camper (now or forever). Someone else has heard something (she can't remember what) that she doesn't like about CFLs; somebody else can have it.
Maybe it's my spiel. Would you like a free light bulb for Earth Day from Sierra Club? Maybe they're uncomfortable with stuff like planet Earth. Maybe they think we'll sneak back after hours and...plant a tree?
Or maybe it's...me!
Everybody will tell you, don't think this way. Rid yourself of distractions. Focus on the lightbulb. But as soon as I start to think, You know, maybe this is about me, everything changes. These people, these unwilling people, they're my neighbors, you know? My neighbors. They live here. I live here. We live here.
So I'm knocking on your door to give you a lightbulb, yes. But I'm knocking on your door to knock on your door. I'm your neighbor just down the block, I say. I live just over there. Nice to meet you.
Do the lightbulbs move any faster? Not in particular. But I meet the friend of a friend. I admire a little sidewalk art (hearts and flowers mostly). And maybe I make someone's day. This is my lucky day! he says. It's not every day you're walking along and get a free lightbulb!
Then I meet a neighbor whose best friend in the world has passed away. My friend was an only child, she says. It devastated her parents. Fifty-five years, we were best friends.
I listen, saying little, indulging myself in the smell of her home. Exactly like Grandma Z's used to be.
There's not too much I can do, she says. I'd like to make a donation or help you out, but I just can't. Still trying to get myself together.
I tell her, That's OK. The lightbulb's...free.
We talk a while. Her best friend, her health, the environment. You're a lovely person, she offers. I can tell.
It's maudlin, I know, but I tell her, So are you.
She talks some more. And I listen.
Well, if there's one thing I can do, she says, looking in my eyes, it's change my lightbulb.
So whatever you're trying to do, teach a class, defend a country, protect a kid, save the earth, I think I get it.
We don't always agree. We wouldn't pick the same shade of paint every time, the same cause, the same purpose. But I believe you did it out of love. And just in case you're hoping someone would notice: Somebody did.