Another Pair of Hands

by Kitty Galloway

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I was halfway across the intersection when it happened. The thin makeshift cords holding the precariously placed fruit boxed snapped, and in one slow motion moment, the entire 20 pound cardboard box of newly acquired loot went sliding off the back of my bike and into the street.

Peaches, precious, great ripe orbs, rolled everywhere. At some point, while the box was sliding, I’d felt the sudden backward momentum and stopped. I stood there, bike cockeyed, brain processing, peaches rolling away from me, into the middle of the road. Cars lined up at the light in three directions. Peaches rolled. The light turned green.

It is easy in our world right now to feel that things, quite simply, are going to hell. Is that too harsh a lens on it? I was in a graduate level environmental studies class recently, with a panel of professors in attendance to discuss a reading. The conversation changed directions quickly, when a student early in the class raised her hand and asked, “Are you ever scared?”

 The conversation swung like an arc. Forget David Brower. This one is real. Are you ever scared. Each professor took their time, danced around it, looked through it. The question hung heavy. Yes.

In the end, each professor said, “Yes.

Yes. And then they each gave us their version of how they found hope, anyway. They were older than us. They had an eye for the bigger picture. They believed in movements, in the quiet, slow strength and resilience that births change. They had faith. They believed people were becoming more aware, more socially conscious, albeit slowly. They believed that this world moves in actions and reactions, and we are in a time when people are reacting. It is a pendulum they said. They believed that people would come up with solutions.

“But I am scared for my grandchildren” they said. “I am afraid sometimes for your generation. And the next.”

 Are you ever scared? Yes. It’s hard to listen to the news. It’s hard to maintain hope sometimes. It’s hard to understand how people can be so terrible to other people, frequently, intentionally, and we are supposed to process it, and go on with our days.

I stood in the intersection and watched as my peaches rolled away from me. People on all sides of the intersections sat and watched, as my peaches rolled away from me. It was the height of the summer in Missoula, Montana, and I’d really splurged this time: spent more of my small seasonal salary than advisable but still, I know the farmers. And peaches only come around once a year. As I was biking home my brain was already setting up the canning pot, blanching and halving the sweet rounds, boiling light syrup with just a little honey, slicing vanilla beans. A bright glass jar of sweet vanilla peaches can go a long way to raising spirits in the middle of a grey, frozen February in Montana.

As the light switched to green, I panicked. All those cars waiting. Twenty pounds of valuable fruit, moving rapidly away from me. I dropped my bike and began scrambling. I felt all those eyes, felt the green light pulsing, felt the weight of forcing impatient strangers to wait.

Harried, hurried, it was a minute before I realized there was another pair of hands, reaching for a peach. And another, a pair of feet, chasing one down the yellow line of the intersection. Three boys, no older than high school, and a woman who may have been their mother had hopped out of their car, there in the road, to help me.

With five of us chasing down the rounds, the task was accomplished in a minute, maybe two. Every peach accounted for, sagging cardboard box and abandoned bicycle laid neatly on the sidewalk.

There was barely enough time for me thank them: that woman, setting an example. Those three earnest boys who chased down my fruit under the watchful eyes of three lanes of traffic.

This then, is what gives me hope. The people who stand up. The people who get out of their cars to help, even when everyone else is just sitting there watching, even after the light has turned green.