MY NEIGHBORHOOD

Fleeing Demons, He Ran Into an Angel

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Monday, November 6, 2006

Where we live shapes us, and we shape where we live. Here's what area residents have to say about where they live. An occasional Page Three feature.

It was one of those 24-hour funks. Something was bugging me big-time, and I was sullen and self-absorbed.

Occasionally, the first light of morning brings with it an awareness that today is a history yet to be written -- a day of myriad possibilities, some of which might even be adventures that become the stuff of reminiscences to one's grandchildren. But this particular dawn seemed little more than an extension of the fretful night that preceded it. The demons I had been fighting in the dark were not banished by the rays of the rising sun. Like hard-nosed boxers refusing to go down for the count, they'd bounce off the canvas to torment me some more as soon as I landed what I thought was a knockout punch. They tagged along as I went for a run.

Having squandered most of my early-morning time stewing in my own juices, I selected as my running route du jour a couple of short laps around my neighborhood. Now late as well as agitated, I figured I'd push the pace on this abridged run and thereby break a sweat and induce a measure of tranquility before having to face the callous workaday world.

It didn't work. Not only were the demons just as fast as I, they were also adept at harassing me even when running at their anaerobic threshold.

I turned the corner at Taber Street and spotted a young girl taking her family's trash to the curbside for pickup. As I drew near, her paper trash bag, which was wet on the bottom, broke, and the garbage tumbled out onto the lawn.

Too bad; not my problem, I thought. I've got more important things to worry about, and I'm late, to boot.

"My mom's gonna kill me," she sobbed, as my spirit softened and I came to a halt. She looked up at me. To my surprise, her face was not the face of a little girl but the face of everyone in pain. It was, as they say, a Kodak moment.

"It's not your fault," I said. "The bag was wet, that's all. Go get another one, and I'll help you pick this stuff up."

As we finished bagging the last piece of garbage, I chucked her under the chin and said, "You're my honey. . . . See ya."

I resumed my run but felt strangely different. For one thing, I could not, for the life of me, remember what I was previously distressed about. Whatever it was, it obviously wasn't very important anymore. I also had an overwhelming feeling that my chance meeting with the little girl was anything but chance: It felt very purposeful somehow. I asked myself: What is the meaning of this perplexing incident?

In the hours of reflection that followed, I came to this conclusion: At a moment when I least expected it (and most needed it), the transcendent broke through in the form of a little girl to call me out of myself and to reveal the kinship of all people. All of us are, after all, bits of ancient stardust with consciousness and free will.

The morning's events had also given me a fresh perspective on a Bible verse I learned in my youth: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." To me, that little girl was an angel.

And so it was that on a day that began in anxiety and self-centeredness, a mind-set that normally precludes the rest of the day from being anything but a bummer, my usually uneventful morning run became the stuff of reminiscences. For what is worth recounting if not a stardust memory?

-- Bernie Greene, Silver Spring


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