Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reaching the End of the Line

Finding My Place—At the End of the Line

 Lack of Kindness Has No Legs to Stand On

It might seem so, but this story is not about me. It’s about the me-first culture and how to get out of line and change it.

Quaint, rural Fellsmere, Florida is a small town a bit north and west of Vero Beach. It holds a place in Florida’s agricultural history and has some of the best bass fishing in the country at its Stick Marsh/Farm 13, but it’s not on most must-see lists.
Each January, however, the town jumps to the top of those lists when it holds The Fellsmere Frog Legs Festival. At that time, they serve up crisp fried frog legs that tumble to the edges of plates piled with grits, coleslaw, and hushpuppies. You prefer gator tail? It’s on the menu, too.
Sunday afternoon we set out to sample some amphibious delight. Rain all day Saturday meant the festival’s last day was packed, so when I spied a sign for shuttle bus parking I pulled in. At eight months pregnant and counting, I knew my daughter would appreciate the ride.
The shuttle bus left just as we arrived, so my daughter, her fiancée, his six-year-old daughter, and I snagged a spot about tenth in line for the next bus. We waited. We waited. The parking lot continued to fill. The line got longer.
Children aren’t great waiters. After 20 minutes, our six-year-old member got antsy, so I took her for a walk in the parking area and invented a game of count the Florida license tags versus the out-of-state tags. She tired of playing “tag” just as the bus approached, so we returned to the line.
But wait. We still had to wait for riders to disembark on the other side of the parking lot.
I looked away from the bus as an elderly couple approached from my right (elderly meaning older than my 60 years). The husband’s steps were tentative, and he took care to maintain his balance. We said hello and I saw them look toward the end of the line—the long line. It seemed too long, too far for him to walk, so I stepped aside and said, “Here, go in front of me.” In an instant, the man whose back I had faced the previous 25 minutes turned and glared. Aware he was going to protest, I flashed him a pleading look, and to avoid embarrassing the couple, mouthed the words, “They’re elderly.”
He sneered and demanded, “What about all the other people in line behind you?” I was stunned but gathered my wits and said, “I’ll go to the end of the line.”

Go to the End of the Line
I walked to that far-away end and took my place, last in line. As passengers far ahead of me boarded the bus, I worried I might not make the cut. I did and even got a seat, although several people behind me had to stand in the aisle. Our young charge sat in her dad’s lap, making us two for two regarding places in line.
After the shuttle dropped us at the Festival, we stepped into the land of fried amphibian parts, country music, and carnival rides. As we entered, I noted a couple making their careful way ahead of us. The woman turned. I recognized them as the folks to whom I’d given my place. She radiated gratitude and said, “Thank you so much.” I replied, “You are welcome.”
We had a great time. My system rebelled from the frog legs, gator tail, ice cream, cotton candy, and sweet pickled jalapeños, but I plan to attend next year. (I might skip the cotton candy and the jalapeños.)
What I will not skip in this intervening year is seizing every opportunity to do one small kindness. Too much of life as we know it requires lines, waiting, and a patience that can be difficult to muster. We often are crowded, stressed, and busied to the point of abstraction and certainly to irritation. Because we feel like we are just another number, another dot on a trajectory to we know not where, we sometimes stake a claim on our space, our place, whether it be a highway toll lane, a coveted parking space, a place at the deli counter, a place in line.
Staking that claim, the temporary owner declares, “This is mine.” Crossing the line, and in particular, cutting the line, regardless of the reason, is most often met with anger, scorn, and far too often, road rage being a foul example, violence that has even led to death.
And all that fuss is for a place, a spot, the tiniest dot that really matters so little in the grand scheme of what we call our lives.

Lines, Lines, Everywhere Lines
In our culture, we’re taught to toe the line and about a fine line. We are told where to draw the line and we are warned against the evil act of cutting in line. Sometimes, and those can be the best of times, we must pave a path of kindness and just get out of line.

The Fellsmere Frog Festival is held every January. You can find out more here: http://www.froglegfestival.com/
Fellsmere’s Salt Marsh is famous for bass fishing: http://www.imaginationbassin.com/About-Marsh.htm

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