Many mornings my ride to work ends up being mostly mundane. I drive passively on autopilot, barely registering the similar scenes that unfold to surround me. Some days there are exceptions, like when turkey babies waddle across the road or when the yellows and reds of fall trees contrast against stark, white sky. There are also some mornings when interactions with traffic, not nature, draw my attention. However, those human interactions typically end with less mundanity and more profanity, like when drivers refuse to move over, forcing me to merge while alternating between brake-slamming and rapid acceleration.
So it's unsurprising that I had a rather negative reaction when at the start of one morning commute, I noticed some outsiders making strange markings on one of our streets in strange and indecipherable code (perhaps in preparation for war). These "enemy" laborers sported traditional uniforms, shirts of neon yellow-green-orange and rough, tan cargos, spattered with flecks of paint or dried dust and mud. They were busying themselves, charting out some new course for our old, familiar road while their gigantic machinery lurked in the background. I was instantly ready for battle. After an eternity of redirection this construction season (and what frankly felt like very personal assaults on every route into our neighborhood), I could scarcely tolerate a new, potential inconvenience. Attitude fixed and at the ready, I committed to stay mired in serious aggravation.
However, the next morning felt like Christmas (the one when you finally got that sweet, pastel pink, banana-seat bike). I swear to you, the project, which started only the day before, was near completion. We were the proud recipients of shiny new sidewalks. Astonished, I marveled. Extremely humbled and filled with embarrassment for my prior negativity, I had an intense desire to stop my car in the middle of the road, get out and thank all those who toiled to make this possible. I was overjoyed. I wanted to ensure that their children knew they should be proud to have a parent who makes miracles happen, fabricating something from nothing.
On further reflection, I determined that my overreaction must have come from the momentary relief of the melancholy that had settled under my skin. These days, I so frequently find myself malcontent and questioning the intent of people in power and the efficacy of our government and systems. But where the sidewalk ends, new perspectives arise. Forces of good are always hard at work, even in the most unexpected places. Imagine Spokane City Hall, where those plans must have changed a multitude of hands to come into fruition — the budget office, engineers, contractors and assistants. Intentional or not, each one of those people helped build a structure that's perpetually open and inclusive for all ages, races, religions, sexual orientations, national origins, body types, socio-economic and familial statuses and gender. Better yet, these sidewalks seemed to be consciously constructed for various abilities, curbs that allow all kinds of access, including for those of us sporting wheels — baby carriages and bikes, scooters and skates, wheelbarrows and wheelchairs, even little red wagons.
There is no structure in our present that exists without architects from the past. Consider those who conceived concrete. Wikipedia reports it's the Romans and that its durability derives from the incorporation of volcanic ash. Nature and humanity combine to create things enduring. History elucidates on the many fibers that continue holding us together, regardless of how frayed or at odds we become. We always affect one another. Bound up and interconnected through one single story. So, how many hands does it really take to build a sidewalk? ♦
Inga N. Laurent is a local legal educator and a Fulbright scholar. She is deeply curious about the world and its constructs and delights in uncovering common points of connection that unite our shared but unique human experiences.