Monday, January 19, 2009

Great Expectations

Public transportation looks particularly attractive when snow hits my New England neighborhood. Watching a weather report on a local station early yesterday morning, I saw the video of a car that had slid across a nearby highway and off the shoulder of the road. I abandoned the idea of driving my own car downtown for late morning services, concluding that I could walk the twenty-five minutes to the closest bus running on Sunday and easily make it to church before the first hymn.

I knew it would be cold when I opened the front door. I knew it would be quiet. I knew it would be beautiful. I knew I would pride myself on being out early this Sunday morning, a transplanted Southerner able to bring a peculiar wonder to the prospect of the wide spaces around me dotted with falling snow.

Even with Polartec 180’s keeping my ears warm, I could enjoy the sound of my boots crunching across the snow of the driveway and onto the road. I had not expected that anyone would yet have cleared the sidewalks in front of these suburban homes, and so the empty roads became my walkway.

What I hadn’t known, what I hadn’t expected was the possibility that I would share part of this suburban walk with a small red fox.

From the briskness with which he trotted from one driveway and down the next, I knew I had nothing to fear from him. He crossed the street at a couple of points, exploring what driveways on the other side of the road might lead him to. I was clearly of no interest to him, tall as I was, determinedly walking as I was, thickly padded with an LL Bean down parka as I was.

If I was of no interest to him, he was a compelling focus for me. The red fox was alert to this landscape in a way that left my own attentions to evergreen branches weighted with snow feeling perfunctory and amateur. My sense of health and personal well-being was put into a wider perspective that I do not usually entertain.

When I boarded the near empty bus ten blocks away and twenty minutes later, I was still smiling from the unexpected encounter. Fumbling out of my gloves, I drew from my pocket both the cash I had ready for the fare and a mass transit fare card that I had purchased months ago.

“I don’t know if there is anything left on this,” I explained to the bus driver before I tapped it against the electronic fare reader installed next to him.

“You’ve got lots left,” he informed me almost immediately, adding with a grin, “Nothing like finding money you didn’t think you had, eh?”

Once settled in a seat, I pulled from my book bag a volume of psalms adapted from the Hebrew by Stephen Mitchell. The soft-cover book opened to Psalm 147, and I read:

You rebuild what has been ruined
and recreate what was lost.

Later in the same psalm I came across this verse:

You give the wild animals their prey;
you feed the young ravens when they cry.

I smiled afresh at what seemed a vote of confidence from a universe that could draw me out of well-traveled ways on a Sunday morning and assure me of companionship and resources I may have thought I could no longer expect.

Photo of red fox from


Vic Mansfield said...

Sounds like you and the fox would have had much to talk about. Sounds like both sorrowful and joyful mysteries abounding for you. You are in prayers.

John said...

Your religious tradition gives you a vocabulary for expressing compassion. Your personal experience provides you the impetus to step up and offer it.

Thanks for catching the layers of a life that this Sunday morning tale was attempting to record. I couldn't ask for a better reader.

Ur-spo said...

Foxes are good totem animals and good companions. I hope it brings you good fortune.

John said...

Your identification of the fox as a totem animal has been helpful. The page of one website opens by addressing the fox in these words:

"Stealthy messenger of the gods,
Cunning and wise, reliable friend,
Guide my steps through this maze of deception
And see this problem to its end."

Thanks for the hopeful wishes.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. Compelling description for a fellow New Orleanian happily stuck in the deep south. The fox was intriguing, but so was the characterization of the bus driver--making a wonderfully human connection with you. The gospel story of the once lost but then found coin updated. A bus from Carrollton and Claiborne down Jefferson Highway. Sweet memories. God bless you on your bus journey.

John said...

Waiting for the bus across from the K&B at Carrollton and Claiborne, the drive past the waterworks on Jefferson Highway -- those memories bring unexpected warmth on another snowy New England day here.

The company of some old friends is welcome at any stage of the journey, so unfailingly supportive do they prove to be. Thanks!