She was sitting on a huge concrete block in the wide gravel no-man’s-land that constitutes a parking lot for shipyard employees, as well as a micro-neighborhood of people who live in old RV’s. I was thinking about where I would shelter if The Big One hit right then. There was a reasonable amount of open space, free from hazards like utility poles and power lines; but the soil in the area, as I’d just learned from a color-coded map, is highly susceptible to liquefication, and I was beneath a slope that would surely collapse into a tree-and-building-laden landslide in the event of magnitude 9.0 earthquake. Bad news.
(I’ve been anxiously fixating on the danger our region faces from a massive earthquake since I read this New Yorker article yesterday. As much as I like to think that I have a deep acceptance of impermanence and the inevitability of death, the thought of being in immediate peril from a natural disaster is horrifying. Strangely, even before reading about the Cascadia subduction zone, I’d been experiencing a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of those who, like me, exist in the complacent ease of relative peace and prosperity. The truth is, it could shatter at any moment. I’d been having vivid fantasies of what it would be like to be involved in a large-scale catastrophe—like the mega-quake we’ve been promised.)
She was sucking on a vaporizer, and Ayla bounded up to greet her.
“You’re such a nice person. Wow. You’re gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous, wow.” She traced the contours of an imaginary pregnant belly.
“Thanks,” I replied. “You’re very sweet.”
“No, I’m not sweet! It’s true! You’re gorgeous. I am so happy for you. You’re going to be amazing.”
I smiled and thanked her, a little bemused, but flattered. As I walked away, she exclaimed,
“Yes. Yes, thank God!” I wondered what she meant, and surmised that she was glad someone as great as she clearly assumed I was was having a child.
When I was about 100 yards distant, she called out, “What’s your name?”
I yelled a reply, but she couldn’t hear, and started running towards me on sock feet. Ayla turned around and raced towards her, and I followed.
I repeated my name, and she launched into an impromptu paean to my beauty, kind-heartedness, loving nature, and overall greatness.
“Your energy is so beautiful! Look at the sunset. Look at it! That’s the energy I see inside you. You have so much love in your heart. You’re going to have a beautiful baby son. Can I give you a big hug? Or just a little hug?”
I assented. She smelled strongly of booze and there was a dampness of sweat between her shoulder blades. A small red bruise showed on her slender arm, and she had a Chinese character that may have been a tattoo but looked like a pen drawing in the center of her chest.
As I walked away, she began to weep.
“You’re going to be a great mother! I’m SO glad I met you. Namaste. What’s your sign?”
“Aries,” I said.
“I’m a Capricorn,” she said, and bowed, forearms drawn together in front of her face. “I love you. I love you. I love you so much!” She sobbed.
Needless to say, it was an affecting encounter. One could as easily dismiss her words as the illogical, and entirely unfounded, ramblings of a drunk. After all, I’m in the habit of dismissing (okay, attempting to dismiss) the nastiness directed my way by strangers who know nothing of me: the guy whose road rage prompted him to label me a “dumbass,” for instance. The screwed up thing is that his entirely unreasonable assessment precipitated a full-fledged emotional melt-down: Whereas the casual cruelty of strangers confirms what I suspect about myself (that I am bad, unworthy, stupid, etc.), the (often far more intense) avowals of my goodness that random people occasionally heap upon me make less of an impact. I don’t really believe them.
“She doesn’t know me,” I thought. “Where is she getting all of this?” Also: “She’s drunk.”
I’ve been feeling great guilt about bringing a child into a world that seems more frightening and unstable by the day. I feel selfish and foolhardy; even though I know that I did my due diligence in trying to prevent my pregnancy, I sometimes question whether it was morally correct to continue it. I question my ability to parent, my fitness to steward a vulnerable life, and even my capacity for love, on a daily basis.
But this evening’s encounter was a ray of hope. The total belief of a complete stranger in my essential goodness, her fulsome praise of my very being, her jubilation at my fruitfulness, buoyed my belief in myself. It made me think that maybe I can be a good, even a great, parent. That perhaps my existence is not a net loss for the world, and that, rather than hastening its demise, I might actually be contributing to society by raising a wonderfully compassionate and effective human.
And it took my mind off the Earthquake.