My shoes thumped the city sidewalk, pounding out the rhythm that runners make as they use their feet to travel from one place to another.
I was close enough to the end of my three-mile run and far enough from the Charlotte Ballet building where my son, Zeke, was dancing so I slowed down to a steady walk, allowing my racing heartbeat to become a resting heartbeat before I reached my day’s finish line.
Along my running route, I passed poems on the brick walls of inner-city buildings and stopped to take pictures of them.
One of them was a poem by Dan Albergotti, who is a teacher and the dean of the English Department at Coastal Carolina University. It was titled “Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale.”
Because I love whales, and I’m trying to become a whale genius, I stopped to read the poem:
“Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
Of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.”
It’s about listening, learning and living in a world full of talking, ignoring and dying. It’s beautifuI. I was thinking about it as the Charlotte Ballet building came into sight.
As I walked, I looked down to my right and saw a Styrofoam bowl of soup, filled with water from the morning rain.
Little bits of shredded meat, sliced carrots and baby potatoes were floating at its rim. It was sitting on a three-block high green-painted concrete wall that ran along the side of the sidewalk.
I looked down to my left and saw a small loaf of Italian bread, laying on its side in a muddy puddle in a pothole. It was split in the middle with tiny crumbs all around it.
“Soup and bread,” I thought. “The simplest elements. The simplest meal. A meal, simply. A simple meal, elementally.”
I looked up. An old African-American couple was in front of me, sitting hand in hand on the wall, looking at me with kind eyes the color of smooth, brown stones and kind smiles the color of the sun shining out through the broken clouds.
“How you doin’ today?” they asked.
“I’m doin’ good,” I answered. “Real good. How ’bout you?”
“We’re doin’ real good too. Hope you have a nice day.”
“People and words,” I thought. The simplest elements. The simplest kindness. Being kind, simply. Simple kindness, elementally.
On my run, I passed by the Charlotte Public Library. The librarians have placed signs on support columns with quotes on them from some of the greatest writers in the world.
One of the signs stopped me mid-stride and brought me back to it.
“A word is worth a thousand pictures,” Elie Wiesel said.
Trevor Barton teaches fourth grade and is a member of First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina.