The other day I had one of those bone density scans. Turns out my bone density is low. The medical term is osteopenia. This is in spite of the fact that I’m doing everything right: getting the proper exercise, taking the right calcium and vitamin D supplements, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’m just getting old. As much as we fight it or deny it, it’s the way of all flesh.
The appointment was in Martinez which is only 13 miles from home. Some 20 years ago we lived in Martinez, but these days my travels rarely take me in that direction. The bone scan appointment was one of those rare occasions.
I felt an immediate affinity for the technician who did the scan — a middle-aged woman with a gentle spirit. She gave the impression of being a believer. You may be wondering what I mean by “believer” because people can believe in lots of things. But I say there is only one true thing worth believing, and that is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, as revealed in Holy Scripture.
My visit wasn’t long enough for me to explore her belief system but as I was leaving, I said, “Merry Christmas!” She thanked me and said, “Some people are afraid to say Merry Christmas”. I answered, “Not me” and she replied, “Me either”.
As I walked back to the car I wondered why people insist on separating one another on the basis of color. To my way of thinking, there is only one human color: melanin. While it’s true that melanin produces a variety of subtle pigments, the main difference in skin colors is in the concentration of melanin. The more you have, the darker your skin. The less you have, the lighter your skin.
[Upon re-reading this for the umpteenth time, I realize I’ve neglected to say why I got to thinking about this. The reason is that I am “white” and the lady technician was “black”. But rather than feeling different from her, I felt connected to her in a real way.]
Literally speaking there is no such thing as a “black” person or a “white” person. If there were, then we would also see a lot of gray people walking around. But instead, we see many variations of browns and tans.
I was talking to my wife about this and she told me that there have been twins born where one is light-skinned and one is dark-skinned. If you think about it for a moment you will understand the reason. There is only one race: the human race.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why people make such a big deal out of categorizing others by the color of their skin? Objectively speaking, it is a baseless, childish, stupid thing to do. There are so many better ways to categorize people, take for example, Martin Luther King Jr’s suggestion: the content of a person’s character.
As I got back to my car, I had the impulse to drive down to the marina, one of my favorite haunts when we lived in Martinez. Driving down Alhambra Ave. I saw that many of the businesses were new, while some of the old, familiar ones had gone.
And just as I was trying to assimilate these changes, I drove by the old apartment where our daughter had grown up. One Christmas we bought a live, potted Christmas tree. It was very tiny and only cost a dollar or two. Eventually, after it had grown several spindly feet, Marilyn and I transplanted it next to the sidewalk out front. When Marilyn was in college we moved to Concord. By then the tree had grown some, but it still didn’t give much shade to the front window.
But now, as I drove by, I saw that the tree towered over the two-story building. Its branches totally covering the lane I was in, closest to the sidewalk, and stretching half-way across the other lane. I was not prepared to grasp the time it had taken to grow so much. And by comparison, it seemed so little had happened in my own life. If I could only step back, perhaps I could see it.
I drove through town, down Ferry Street to the marina, past locals on bicycles who didn’t seem to be going anywhere in particular. A woman with her foot in a cast was using a scooter to push herself along in the middle of the road. She was in no particular hurry, and as I waited for her to get out of the street so I could pass, I wondered why she didn’t use the sidewalk.
Once at the marina, car parked and walking on the trail, I found myself in a different world. Recent rains had produced muddy ground. Puddles abounded. The winter grass had sprouted along borders and open spaces in colorful contrast to the earth-tone tangles of cat tails and unnamed marsh growth. Most people would call them weeds.
But if you’ve ever see an Andrew Wyeth painting with wild, wind-blown grasses, you know what deep beauty “weeds” can possess. These were browns and grays of native plants that flourished this past Summer…even one patch of a faint, whitish violet. For a moment my thoughts returned to the meaninglessness of “black” and “white”.
Dead or dormant now, the thick, woody tapestry evoked the somber, sober grace of God. There is wisdom in the changing seasons…wisdom that prepares us for change.
I crossed the slow stream where one Summer I’d seen a large turtle sunning itself on a log, and followed the worn and lichen-covered walkway through the reeds to the duck pond. Well, it’s not strictly speaking a duck pond. You also see geese, gulls and various wild birds I can’t identify.
An elderly couple was watching the birds with a pair of binoculars. I asked them if they knew what kind of birds were wading there. They had long legs and seemed to be almost striped with layers of grey and white and black and brown. They told me the names, but names I forget. What I remember is that one of them has orange legs and during mating season all their plumage turns orange.
You see a lot of people walking their dogs along the marina trails. Seems like they’re all happy and friendly. One gentleman was walking a poodle mix. I commented, “Beautiful dog!” to which he said, “This is George. He comes here every day.”
“Hi George,” I said, as I petted the soft ears and muzzle. “Enjoy the rest of your day.” I never did get the man’s name.
Most of the time when you look people in the eye and say hello, you’ll see a reflection of the same appreciation you feel for just being there. It’s as if you can read people’s minds and they’re all saying, “Isn’t life better today because we came here?”
Some people come to the marina to fly kites. The off-shore breezes are perfect for that. Some people come to fish off the pier. And some like to jog along the trails. But most folks just seem to like being there, enjoying the openness of the scenery. You can look across the wetlands to the tree-pocked hills that surround Martinez; you can look across the Carquinez Strait to Benicia and watch the boats going by — sometimes big, ocean-going ships.
On the pier, pigeons lazily sunned themselves along the leeward edge. They barely took notice of me as I walked by…they’re that used to people on the pier. After a while the crisp December breeze compelled me to bring this trip to an end and go home. Coming back to the marina had been like visiting an old friend. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed it.
On the drive home I was jarred back to “normal”. Freeway construction made the traffic more stressed than usual and I was reminded of the hectic pace we come to accept as our regular way of life. I got back home well before lunch, thought about how full my morning had been and wondered why I don’t do this sort of thing more often. I guess it was because today wasn’t just routine. It took a medical appointment to break my habits and a willingness to be spontaneous to do something outside my normal pattern.
Thank you, Lord, for that. Help me to be open to do this kind of thing more often.