Thursday, November 3, 2011

because they're beautiful. and you are not.

Today I was on my bike waiting for a red light to turn green so that I could continue on towards work.  I checked over the cars around me to see if any of the drivers looked drunk or mentally ill --- usually people on their morning commute are merely hungover but it's always good to be careful.  Immediately to my left (I am in a bicycle lane) is a large shiny reddish-brown SUV.  It's driver is an artificial appearing blond woman who is earnestly talking on her phone and looking about as self-important as people do when they are ensconced in a giant machine and so busy and in demand that they have to talk even while driving.  I notice that the car is a Toyota Sequoia.  Sequoia trees are monumentally beautiful. 

Nearly twenty years ago I knew this person, Jenny (not her name) who had a lot of problems.  She was mentally ill, her diagnosis being schizo-affective which operated then as a bit of a catchall.  She was on a huge number of medications.  She was tremendously overweight.  Her skin was an unhealthy greyish pink.  She shuffled along very slowly because her legs were so fat and swollen and despite being relatively young she often needed a walker.  She lived with a nominal boyfriend who the social workers agreed was abusive but it was better than the alternative which was a group home except there were no available spots in the area group homes so really the alternative was homelessness.  Every now and then Jenny would have these spooky moments of lucidity and attempt suicide.  Not the "cry for help" stuff, the "jump off a tall building" stuff. 

Jenny's one great passion and pleasure in life was cats, specifically kittens.  Cute fuzzy little kittens.  She wore this pale pink sweatshirt, very stained, with the print of a soft pretty sleeping kitten on it.  Just mentioning the word "cat" would make her squee with delight.  So Jenny was squeeing over a picture of a cat one day and I said idly, "What is it about Jenny and cats?"  And a co-worker heard me and said "Kittens are little and cute.  And she [Jenny] is not."

Back to cars.  You can't be alive and not have noticed the naming structure for SUVs. 

Tahoe:  a beautiful lake and forest in California. 

Yukon:  a majestic wilderness in Canada. 

Acadia:  a spectacular national forest in Maine.

So what does any of this have to do with poor Jenny?  Jenny loved kittens because they were soft and beautiful and loveable and she was huge and mentally ill...and no one loved her.  The Sequoia is one of the most beautiful trees on this planet.  They can live for hundreds and even thousands of years.  When a Sequoia is struck by lightning it's children rise again in a circle, growing from the parent root system.  To stand in a grove of Coastal Redwood trees is to experience a natural cathedral, to experience something timeless and powerful and precious.

Those SUVs get the names that they do because it is a vain grasp towards being beautiful, to being part of something grand and meaningful.  The reality of the situation is that no name can change the Toyota Sequioa I saw today (and it's trying too hard faux blond driver) from being just another big ugly SUV that threatens other people on the road and compromises the very tree it is named for.  But that doesn't stop the driver from hopelessly wishing that she was a little more.  Jenny would understand. 

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