newsletter logo: Sangha Reflections


By Mary Hillebrand

“Someone stole my bike, right outta the livin’ room.” Robyn looked at me with a mix of sadness and resignation, her 8-year-old eyes showing no surprise or shock. Ah, impermanence, I thought to myself, though outwardly I tried to console her with indignation and sympathy. “That really stinks,” I replied, failing to conjure anything more profound. As we walked along on that spring afternoon, I reflected on not just the incident but her reaction, her acceptance of how fragile “ownership” is in her world, as a child in a houseful of adults, a revolving door of siblings and half-siblings, cousins, friends and neighbors, and a grandmother gradually relinquishing control to the younger, pushier crowd.

Impermanence is so much more tangible in Robyn’s neighborhood; only joblessness and drug use seem to hold fixed positions here. A few weeks before, it was $100 gone from grandma Dorothy’s dresser drawer.

Come summer, I’ve got a bike for Robyn, rescued from someone’s trash pile. It’s in great shape, needing only a new seat post, air in the tires and a good scrubbing. I’m so excited to fix it up and present her with my new find. I imagine her delighted surprise, the extra hug I’ll get that day, when she sees this little pink and white bike, just her size. I can’t make everything easy in her world, I remind myself. The folks will still be hanging out on her porch, smoking weed, cussing, even as she rolls up on her “new old” bike.

I look for her every day as I pass her house. “Wow, that’s a long vacation!” I say when the woman at her front door says she and grandma Dorothy are on their second – or is it third? – week in North Carolina. Then one day it’s her uncle answering the door, looking apologetic and sad, glancing past me to the “for sale” sign in the front yard. Impermanence indeed. Dorothy and Robyn have moved to Charlotte, Robyn will be starting school in a week or two, he tells me.

No goodbye! Not one last hug from my young friend, just abruptly gone from my life. I can’t for even a second question Dorothy’s decision – a large part of me thanks her and rejoices in the thought that Robyn is getting out of this place, perhaps to somewhere with fewer grown-ups unwittingly teaching her the ways of their world. Judgment and sadness do battle inside me as I look around at the people, young and old, hanging out as I walk away, exhaling heavily through yet another cloud of pot smoke on the sidewalk.

Will Robyn remember me? Will I be one of those faintly sketched figures in her memory when she looks back ten years from now, perhaps that “nice lady who let me walk dogs with her”? Does it matter? I’ll remember her, and she may never know it. Impermanence, yet a lasting effect on me – the love I got to share, the opportunities to experience the world through the eyes of a child and to show that child she is valued and respected.

She’s got a brand new start. I’ve got a hole in my afternoon where “Miss Maaaryyyyy! Can I pleeeeease walk with you?” used to be. I’ve got a little pink and white bike, waiting for a new friend.

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