Suszynski: Faith in humanity often swings like a pendulum |

Suszynski: Faith in humanity often swings like a pendulum

I sat down for lunch at a long table outside. The smell of snow-soaked leaves newly crisp from a cold wind mingled with the last blooms of curled lavender and unfettered laughter. On the other side of the table sat three women that I have known for several years. I made a chocolate cake for the occasion and homemade whipped cream. The last of the garden lettuce was dripping in a lemon vinaigrette in the salad bowl.

In the grocery store that morning, as I was picking chocolate for the cake, somebody pulled me out of the way of a broken Coke bottle. She pointed to my feet, “I was worried since you are wearing sandals.”

Before that, I was late to meet my friend Evan for a walk. As I was paying for our coffee, I realized that I had left my wallet in the car. The line waited for me patiently and let me back to the front. A young man dressed neatly in all black, pointed to my mask: “I really like those colors.”

My belief in humanity often swings like a pendulum. Sometimes, there are moments when I feel as if I am on my own island yelling into a void. Other times, compassion is a vast ocean drying up in the sun. Kindness dissipates and all that’s left are salt crystals in the hot sand. But as I stepped around the glass in the supermarket, as I looked into the faces of the women I have known for years at lunch, all of us from different worlds, I know that hate is less prevalent than I believe.

After I finally met up with Evan, coffees in hand, we agreed on only 10 minutes of election talk and then back to books and writing. For a few weeks now, we have been discussing “Plainsong” by Kent Haruf.

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I first read this book when I was in high school. I was attracted to its quietness, its lack of ornament and the way Haruf captures Colorado’s genteel personality. 

My favorite relationship in the book is between the McPheron brothers and Victoria Roubideaux. In the beginning of the book, Victoria, 17, learns she’s pregnant. Her mom throws her out, so Victoria turns to her teacher who takes her in for a while but eventually, a few complications come up and the teacher finds another place for Victoria. She drives out to meet the old McPheron brothers who live a while outside of town.

“ … look at us. Old men alone. Decrepit old bachelors out there in the country seventeen miles from the closest town. … Think of us. Crotchety and ignorant. Lonesome. Independent. Set in all our ways. How you going to change now at this age of life?” Harold asks his brother.

They take the pregnant girl in anyway. Early on, Victoria is frustrated with the brother’s silence. She confides in her teacher who then confronts Raymond about it in the grocery store. Later, Raymond says to his brother with all the gravity in the world: “I’m talking about we got to do something today … Not next week.”

These small moments of compassion between characters are so heartwarming. Each character, despite not knowing the other well, sets aside feeling uncomfortable to do better by the other. And they don’t push it off until next week, they do it today.

“And so the two McPheron brothers went on to discuss slaughter cattle and choice steers, heifers and feeder calves … Talking. Conversing. Venturing out into various other matters a little too. The two old men and the seventeen-year-old girl sitting at the dining room table out in the country after supper was over and after the table was cleared, while outside, beyond the house walls and the curtainless windows, a cold blue norther began to blow up one more high plains midwinter storm.”

Compassion is an ocean but it’s not necessarily being threatened by a hard sun trying to drink up the water. Just like anything in the world, the tide ebbs and flows. We feel discouraged by the receding tide, and more open to wonder as the ocean tickles our toes on its way back.

Toward the end of the book, the McPherons wait in a panic at the hospital. In one quiet moment before Victoria’s baby is delivered, the brothers enter Victoria’s hospital room to check on her as she’s weathering the contractions: “ … it was clear that her concentration was still focused on what was going on inside herself and nowhere else except there, and the McPheron brothers sat in the chairs against the wall near her bed and worried about her more than they had ever worried about anything in the last fifty years and watched it all and stayed with her into the night.”

I have also been worried, staying up into the night. But as I fall asleep, what lets me rest is that yes, my faith in the morality, in the grace, in the compassion of people certainly swings like a pendulum. I just need to remember that the pendulum can only swing because it’s centered. Eventually, what negative things swings the pendulum to one side, there will be an equal action that takes it back.

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