Sometimes you just need a sign. I was feeling blue after my two closest friends suffered losses small and large.
One was traveling internationally and emailed me that the beginning of their South America trip was a disaster. On the streets of Buenos Aires, they were deluged by an enormous quantity of bird poop. “Must have been a great blue heron,” I thought as I read.
In the ensuing effort to clean themselves up, though, they were mired in deeper doo-doo. It turned out to be a tourist scam: Their cell phone was swiped by the folks who purportedly came to their aid. It cost them a day and considerable cash to clear up the various messes.
Soon after I read this, another friend called weeping. Her young niece had been shot dead as she house-sat for a family in Seattle. The ex-boyfriend of the daughter of the vacationing family has been arrested.
I got on my bike because, really, what else can you do when there’s nothing you can do? I had a bike-able errand in town, and on the way back I started noticing what people communicate in their front yards. I wasn’t really looking for a sign, but I started reading signs wherever I rode.
The first one that made me pause was an old banner. It was a silk-screened photo of the Earth — the one made famous as the first Earth photo taken from outer space. This one was so faded and dilapidated that it barely hung. I wondered if the owner was leaving it up as a commentary on the imperiled state of our planet, but decided instead that she or he just wasn’t willing to give up on Mother Earth.
Then I saw a sign that tickled my funny bone. On a dry lawn was a small wood table where the family often displays homegrown produce. This time the table was empty. There were no fruits or veggies; no cigar-box for depositing cash. Only a sign remained: “Awesome Apples!” — and that sign was nailed to a nearby lemon tree! Maybe the apple tree wasn’t producing and the guy ran out of sign-making materials, I thought, or he would have penned “Luscious Lemons.”
My mood lifted a little as I biked on. I came to a full stop when I reached the best Little Free Library in town. This one appears well used. The book choices change regularly, and new inventory is closely followed by additional surplus bookshelves. There is even some attempt at organization by topic, as well as decorations like a dog statue and an American flag. Neighbors have gone to quite a bit of trouble.
With these acts of neighborliness, plus my considerable exertion to bike back up to the foothills, my natural optimism was mostly restored. I felt satisfied in having accomplished my favorite multitasking: accomplishing an errand, exercising and keeping one car off the road for a half-hour.
I may not have saved the world, or even reduced the frustration and anguish of my friends, but I saw signs. There was a dilapidated Earth sign, a confusing apple sign and a sorry collection of books “littering” a peaceful lane. But I saw attempts to transcend the frustration and anguish of life as it presents with little acts of humanity. Sometimes you have to seek the signs you need.
— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor (www.DecisivePath.com) and a freelance writer (www.CanyonVoices.com). Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.