Kinder. Gentler. By Jamie Kirkpatrick

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They’ve been on the road for several days now, plodding along with everyone else, going back home to enroll. All these animals, all these people; the dust clogs the woman’s nose and her eyes are red and dry. She’s exhausted; she feels a constant pressure in her belly. The man is worried and not a little confused; his hands are calloused and chapped and he is chewing his nails. Their swayback donkey looks ready to drop, but there is still a long way to go before nightfall. It’s too noisy to talk. Heads down, the couple just keep moving forward. They are hoping for a kinder time. A gentler time.

At this time of year in the desert, the days are chilly; at night, the temperature drops sharply and there is nothing to block the wind. Finally the man and woman reach their destination and make their way through the deserted streets of the little town, looking for some shelter, a safe place to spend the night. They’re hungry; their money is almost gone. It’s getting late. Finally, they come to a humble little caravansary but all the rooms are taken. The innkeeper looks at the woman—he notes the slump of her shoulders and sees the dark circles under her eyes—so he takes pity on the travelers and sends them around back where there is a crowded little stable. It noisy and it smells of animals but at least the roof and walls will block the wind and the hay on the floor is still clean and fresh. The woman slides down from the donkey and sinks into the soft hay. The man does what he can to make her comfortable, then steps outside and leans back against the mud wall. It’s very cold; the stars blink and glisten like a thousand tiny lanterns. He is exhausted. He hopes tomorrow will be a kinder day. A gentler day.

Some time in the night, she feels a sharp pain. She knows it is her time. She tells him the baby is coming. He is terrified and doesn’t know what to do. He runs around to the front of the inn and bangs on the door but no one answers so he hurries back to the stable. There is blood on the straw, but she is holding a child, wrapping it in strips of fresh linen she has kept clean just for this moment. Before she finishes wrapping the baby, he lifts a fold of cloth and sees the child is a boy. The man kisses the woman’s forehead and arranges himself behind her so she can lean on him and rest. He rubs her shoulders and wonders. She has never felt so tired but she is filled with love for this helpless child. She holds the baby close to her breast and prays that he will live in a kinder world. A gentler world. They all drop into a deep and dreamless sleep.

We all know this is just an old story. But the hope for a kinder, gentler future endures. For us here now, we still long to be a nation without rancor or deceit, a nation without hatred or fear, a nation without racism or narcissism or corruption. A kinder nation. A gentler nation.

Rest in peace, George Herbert Walker Bush.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

 

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