cramped emptiness

As I drove to school recently I ended up sitting in traffic. It’s not such a bad thing, having a slow commute. It forces me to be mindful of time and how things are always outside of my control. And traffic is just a beautiful thing itself. On the hill coming down 225 just after the Parker exit there is a beautiful view of the six lanes becoming four and the mountains that are ever close and ever out of reach. I usually push my engine into neutral and coast down to the waiting brake lights as I watch the inhabitants of Aurora weave through one another’s exhaust. On cold mornings in traffic, the dance of shifting drivers is sluggish as engines and individuals still long for quiet solitude and thick blankets amid the chill that does not easily lift. On days like this one, however, when the sun is high in the clear sky despite the early hour and the frost had melted before my engine rolled over and I added windshield wiper fluid to the ever demanding hyundai, on days like this one which promise warmth and cheer the dance of traffic is fluid and swift. In music we would say it is allegretto or allegro. In the weaving and dodging of cars that still wear the drab winter dust, there is a bit of beauty.

But then the traffic comes to a halt when drivers like me have come to the end of the exit only lane and force a tight merge. In these moments I turn down the iPod that plays without end in the stereo system; less music makes it easier to concentrate and watch for open spas or the possibility of being swiped by an SUV who has moved here from Texas where bigger is better and he thinks he owns the world. It was in one of these quieter moments that I looked to my right and noticed the driver of a Chevy Impala, silver, with those round taillights that blink so obtrusively when signaling for a turn. She had hair the color of burnt orange, dyed, with the roots showing from at least two months growth and dark brown making the contrast one of painful poverty and mistaken identity. She held in her left hand, a cigarette, close to the edge of the window that was opened just a sliver to the crisp morning air. It perched precariously between the tips of her knuckles, wedged lightly between fake french nails just a bit too long for the pudgy edges of her digits. The hair as pulled back, away from the worn and soft fleshed face, the tired curve of her frown framed by the light streaming in the car. She didn’t glance my way, I can’t be sure of the eyes, but I imagine they were watery with the years of many long nights, close arguments and burnt out tears.

The night before I had driven home after work, exhausted and drained after a perfectly wonderful day. Highways opened to me, overpasses lit by glowing orange hues from lamps whose energy my neglected taxes pay for. The great pillars of cement stand on hardened earth, grappling and digging their claws deep into the soil that no longer gives life as they uphold the highway above my head. Like columns from ancient temples, columns of great remorse– but of necessity demanded by progress–misused strength supports the roads that I traverse, so wearied and burdened by the exhilarating knowledge of divine mystery and human telos. There were few cars on the road, the world felt eerily silent and empty as I gained mile after mile towards my distant home where the life never stops. After an evening in a roaring mountain town, Denver seemed, in all her cramped city life vast and empty. There are sprawling subdivisions, for Westerners like their space; the sky scrapers stretch and groan their way towards skyline fame and our roads lead ever onward to somewhere newer, and better. There is movement, life, but it is ragged and the hopes of the people have been bruised and broken by the very city they wanted to enliven.

The woman in the Chevy Impala, what is her name? Perhaps it is one of beauty, or one of mendacious parents who called her a name of ancestral origins for lack of creativity or for the honor of those who came before. She smokes, from a broken heart, from overburdened finances with tired frightened hands that can no longer haul the burden of her past. She dyes her hair to an unnatural color, as an artist, as expression of inner dissent from who she was born to be, or as an escape to the life she thought she’d have by now–the only means to have control over at least something. But she hasn’t the money to maintain the farce.

Who were you, as a child? Did you know that things would come to this? Or was it a mystery when plans were failed and dreams ruined? My sweet woman, do you know who you are and what you were meant for? Or do you only hurt and suffer the woes of fragmented humanity and lost identity? In this vast and empty city so crowded for living and jobs and misplaced peoples, how long have you held the trembling cigarette to your lips and wished the world would disappear with the embers of the flame?

Go to the mountains, woman! I thought to cry across the plexiglass and three feet that separated my car from hers. Go to the mountains and dream in the open spaces, beneath the starry nights and whispering winds that push the pines to dance. Or go to the basilica and feel your breath escape in tepid reverence as the hallowed walls soar to new heights and you are reminded of your humanity. You are broken, sure, but when you are humbled and frightened by your triviality then you will come to know the maker and feel His graceful presence begin to heal the long ravaged chasms of your heart.

Only do not sit in your car, amid the dancing traffic, on your way to work, at the job that cannot satisfy surrounded by broken dreams and fallen hopes and no hope for escape. Do not go back to the places that have always failed and always will. Go, my love, to the places of healing and to the hope of new life within this splintered world and the dream of wild places full of sunlight and glory beyond this marginal existence.

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