Like an Unexpected Thing
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Tonight, as the Urban Man goes hurtling toward a holiday party on L.A.'s Westside, he again finds himself looking for metaphors of redemption. As usual, I ignore the tinseled displays, outlined houses, and giddy malls. Not for me the rhythms and candles of the season.
All that's too familiar, too…predictable.
I figure redemption will arrive like an unexpected thing—like a sudden opening in the left lane when you're late for an appointment; like the red banner of taillights on an off-ramp leading to the unknown; like switching radio stations and encountering a revelatory tune from an up-and-coming band. Surely, those make better metaphors than anything tinseled or nostalgic. They capture the forward-leaning aspect of the thing.
The other day I took a walk in a Beverly Hills park and passed a weather-beaten old woman asleep on a bench, half-wrapped in ratty blankets. She was ugly and hook-nosed, but down next to her, on the pavement was an unopened winter rose she had plucked from the front of some 90210 address and tucked in a soda can. This bud showed only the first hint of its coming white and pink, and sparkled innocently with dew.
And I said to myself, "Yes, madam, I get the message. That's what redemption means: It promises that time is not against you, but on your side; that the future will prove large instead of small, an infinite possibility instead of an infinite finality—in short, an unopened rose."
Right now, however, I'm pulling up at my holiday party, which has been set in the postmodern digs of a local power couple: Massive plate glass walls open on large ponds. Magnificent art leans casually against the walls. There's food, drink, kisses on the cheek.
Someone has arranged an anonymous gift exchange, and I add mine to a large and unregarded collection by the door. Naturally, no one's thinking about gifts amidst the splendor and good conversation. No one but the Urban Man, who's still on the trail of those redemptive metaphors. Instead of chatting with the remarkable folks at the party, I stand looking at these brightly-wrapped boxes and think:
"Each year, come the holidays, we all wish we were children, again believing what someone called the old illusions: that "success attaches to honor; that love conquers sickness and poverty," and yes, the sweetest illusion of all: that time is on our side. Surely, that's what presents are all about. Surely, opening a present is a metaphor as deep as childhood. A wrapped box represents not just the future, but a promise that the future will be essentially benevolent, a gift from a caring universe. And surely, that metaphor is easily worth the billions we spend on December."
Meanwhile, without noticing, I've been drawn into a conversation. It seems that a woman is speaking to me about magnificence of the house. She's around the same age as the old woman on the bench, but not wrapped in tattered blankets. In fact, she's handsome and thin, with wonderfully highlighted gray hair…and I'm sure she's saying something filled with wealth and wisdom.
Unfortunately, I have eyes only for the rose she has pinned to her dress. You see, it's a fully-blown, white and pink, ripe and splendid rose…but already at its peak.
And I think, "Madam, you and I need to choose our metaphors more carefully. Like all urban men and women, like our sister in the park, our job is not to achieve, but always to execute the act of becoming. Even now, at the top of our game, we should be leaning forward toward something we do not as yet understand—some as-yet unforeseen surprise, some as yet unanticipated salvation."
Copyright © 2007 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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