11 October 2008

The World Didn't End Today

Late this afternoon, I went out to shop. Not a single cloud hovered in the sky; the breeze flickered the ends of my hair ever so slightly. Some people wore jackets and scarves; others, like me, dressed only one step away from the beach. My denim skirt fell to just above my knees, and a dark lilac-colored t-shirt clung to my chest but, thankfully, not my belly. And I stepped along in one of my most comfortable pairs of shoes: a pair of Keen flip-flops with soles like sports shoes, and a lilac-colored nylon thongs that curved from behind my toes to surprisingly graceful toe guards.

Along the way, I stopped at for some chicken and basmati rice from four guys who work out of a truck in front of a supermarket. They have won the Vendy awards, which are referred to as the food vendors' Emmys. The leader of them, who wears brightly printed pants and hats with food motifs, had his first grandchild last week, even though he looks younger than I do. And he and the guys were their usual friendly and funny selves.

And the chicken was the best I've had from them. That's saying something. To use a cliche, it melted in my mouth. Better yet, it filled my mouth with its tender yet spicy flavor that oozed from the moist, succulent flesh.

All right, so I'm not Gael Greene. I never said I was a food writer. But that chicken rivalled the best I've ever eaten. What amazes me is that those guys make such good food and keep everything so clean while working from a truck. Once, when I commented on it, they said it was because they're halal. I'll admit, the halal restaurants and stores in which I've eaten were clean and served mostly good food. (Then again, I'm a fan of Middle Eastern and South Asian foods.)

It's funny--Sometimes you know that plate of chicken, that bowl of soup, that bottle of beer (I haven't had any in decades), is going to be special, even though it's a brand of beer you've drunk or something you've eaten from a kitchen or restaurant from which you've eaten before


Could it be that the chicken was really that good? Or did it have something to do with the kind of day it was?

Very few days were ever prettier or felt nicer than today was. Nothing special happened; it was just one of those days in which you just can't even imagine hardship or evil, even after what you've heard on the news or read in the newspapers during the preceding days.

Everywhere you went during the past few days, people were talking about the economy. Of course. The stock market has just had the worst week in its history, and there's even talk about a depression. I know--I've written articles about--how what's happening now is a result of pure and simple mendacity and profound disrespect for other people. If you have any respect at all for someone, you don't lie to that person to get him or her to buy something he or she can't afford, much less shoot at him, her or anyone else who's never done any harm to you.

It's odd: When I was learning about the Great Depression in school, I somehow got the idea that Black Thursday was the "dark and stormy night" and that the days--years--that followed featured heavy gray skies and dust. Maybe it has to do with those grainy black-and-white photos. I never got the impression that the country--and much of the world--plunged into its economic abyss on a day like this one. I guess most people can't imagine Camus's "le mort en pleurait du ciel claire." I think (I hope) I'm remembering that passage from La Peste right: something about death coming out of the clear blue sky.

What I've just described--that expectation of terrible things happening under storm clouds--is exactly the reason to enjoy a day like this one. If wars, economic crises and such happen independently of nature, what is the point of not enjoying nature when it's to your liking? Also, if the storm on the horizon is going to strike where you live, you may as well prepare, and have some fun if you can.

For me, that joy came after I'd bought a pair of sneakers and was walking down the shopping strip of Broadway in Astoria. Walking toward my house means walking toward the East River--westward. Which means seeing sunsets. I could practically feel myself floating, even flying, in spite of--or maybe because of--everything. No matter what else has happened, at the end of the day there was still that glow of colors in the cloudless sky and a gentle breeze that makes my skin feels like delicate wings that are still strong enough to carry me lightly over what I have walked. I was weightless because, at least for a few moments, I could feel my own weight; I could feel my own weight because so much weight that wasn't my own--the inherited anger, the borrowed rage--has been lifted from me.

When I lose those emotions, I feel sorrow--yes, sometimes for myself-- at least until I find something to learn.

I don't know exactly what I've learned, at least not yet. Maybe it was just another lesson in living in the moment--which isn't always the easiest thing to do when you're looking forward to something. But, really, none of us has any choice but to live in the moment, if not for it.

And today I--and millions of other people--were able to live under a nearly cloudless sky and weather that only the most committed nihilist couldn't love.

Best of all, it was the moment, and I was the person I am--Justine--living it.