Yesterday was a day of being in the right place at the right time.
It started with a streak of green lights through town at 7:00am. My carpool and I decided one morning as we were waiting in our Middle School’s parking lot for our teachers to arrive, that if you hit all the lights green, you get to wherever you were going ten minutes early. If you hit them all red, you’d get there right on time. It’s been a gamble, but it keeps life exciting.
My middle school is in a town where, until recently, the largest employer was the nut processing plant—the one with the big silos and pointed metal roofs that you see right before the first stoplight. The town’s demographic (and student population) is very different from the high school I was working at; many students come from Mexican immigrant families and the rest like to go hunting on the weekends.
Anyway, right place, right time: I was opening the door for a student who was returning from the library, when over his shoulder I glimpsed a sky of color. A hot air balloon was flying right over our classroom! “Manuel (name changed)” I whispered loudly, calling him back and pointing out the door, “Did you see that?!” He grinned as his heavy steps loafed towards me, “Yes, yeah, I did!” Good thing I opened the door at that moment.
Next: This is not so much of a coincidence as an event too good not to share, so I’ve included it in my account of yesterday. A few minutes after Manuel and I shared our whispered excitement about the balloon, the class transitioned from silent reading in their personal books to reading aloud in the class story. Most times students take a paragraph and we complete the story in a read-aloud fashion as mis-matched in tone, voice, and enthusiasm as quilted plaid. However, in this moment my resident teacher was reading: She got to a reference in the story that tripped up her tongue, and she struggled with the word for a few seconds before deferring to me on its pronunciation.
It is extremely hard to untangle letters once they’ve already been tied up by someone else and I was thinking this as I sat there, getting wrapped up in the struggle. I once heard a man forget the words to the Star Spangled Banner mid-song, and no one in the audience, not even the people who had been singing along under their breath, was able to shout out the next line—all of us were caught up in forgetfulness and embarrassment. This read-aloud situation was kind of like that.
The word was “Gethsemane,” a reference to the garden where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept on the night before he was betrayed. Now, take a minute and say that word out loud. Gethsemane. Gethsemane. If you don’t know it, you don’t know it. And even if you do know it, sometimes you don’t know it. In my case, I was like the audience listening to the man forget the words of our national anthem: speechless.
My teacher barreled through though, finally deciding on “Geth-sah-main.” A footnote followed this reference in the book, and she called upon another boy, whom I’ll name Mathew, to read it for the class. Mathew is one of the best read-aloud readers I have ever heard and he embarked on this footnote with the same confidence and enthusiasm he usually did. He did not even falter or miss one breath before correctly pronouncing this doomsday garden as “Geth-seh-mah-nee,” a word that appropriately sounds like “death” and “Yosemite” mixed together. His prodigious skill made my teacher and me laugh, and after he read he sat, as un-phased and pokerfaced. He was in the right place at the right time to help us.
Next: Of the 33,300 students enrolled at my university, it always strikes me as remarkable when I run into the same strangers at the gym. It happened twice last night.
Next: After the gym I returned to my apartment to find my neighbor’s cat outside, wanting to play. This cat and I have a history; it likes to come into my apartment when my door is open, and I like to lead it back outside. It’s a lanky orange short hair and we usually play in the mornings together, before I leave for school (often I’ll look up from rinsing out my breakfast bowl to find it staring at me through the window, so I’ll go give it a little morning hello). But last night, it was lounging outside so I sat on my stoop and untied my shoe so it’d have the lace to paw. We played like that for a while until I thought maybe it would prefer to pounce around in the little lawn the other apartments in my area and I share as a courtyard. I grabbed a strip of a dried palm frond and started wiggling it around for Kitty; soon another cat appeared, and the three of us played quietly in the grass until a car parked in a space near us, its headlights bright in the four feline eyes. A man and a woman got out, distractedly talking about a friend of theirs and how she had made a poor life decision. At first they didn’t see us, but the man stopped and laughed, turning around to the woman, “Look!” he laughed.
“Aw,” she cooed to the cats, “Have you found a new mommy?”
That’s how I met Sarah and Michael who live upstairs, and learned the names of Goose and Ice Box, my first two (furry) friends in this town. Right place, right time.
Next (and lastly): I came inside and closed the blinds for the night but left my window open. My neighbors next door are a group of boys who like to play loud Mexican pop, but who do it at appropriate times and always ask me to tell them if it’s too loud. I’m developing a pattern with them too (like the cats upstairs), because our living spaces are close. As noted previously, my sink is underneath my kitchen window, and I like to keep it open so the air and light come in. This made things a little awkward at first because the boys would be coming and going and I’d be doing dishes or cooking or sitting in the living room and they’d walk by and try not to look in. But one day one of them came out of the house and we couldn’t deny that we’d made eye contact; now we had to politely say hello. Anyway, from there we have slowly become friends and now it’s kind of a joke whenever we see each other.
Last night I was pouring some chocolate chips into a little dish and heard someone begin to open the boys’ door. I could tell whoever it was (there are about five guys who live there) could hear my noises too. Eventually a familiar voice asked through my window and closed blinds, “Whatcha cookin’?”
I wasn’t cooking, I was just planning on eating handfuls of chocolate, and I spoke back through the blinds. “Are you talking to me!?”
I pulled up the blinds and we spoke through the screen a while longer. Good thing I wanted chocolate chips. Good thing I played with that cat. Good thing I went to the gym. Good thing I couldn’t say Gethsemane. Good thing I opened up the classroom door and looked up at the sky. Good thing I hit the first green light.
This is the Stone Ground Story of yesterday’s good timing.