Joyous Cacophony


We’re driving down Angel Street at three o’clock in the afternoon. It’s a perfect late summer day, nice iced coffee in the cup holder, pretty girls in summer dresses everywhere and no runs coming our way.

It has been a grueling tour so far. Sometimes I wonder how I keep it all together and manage to lock things into their compartments to be dealt with later, when things quiet down and I can sort stuff out.

Those little compartments in my mind are imperative, as long as they are opened relatively quickly and the contents sorted through and put away for good. Without them, the ability to savor the moments that make the breadth of a long shift — and career — more vital than the length is jeopardized, and I lose the ability to appreciate the little things.

We approach the Rhode Island School of Design just as a bus from New York is leaving, full of kids going home from a weeklong summer program. The bus is packed, every seat taken. A few daring souls stand and peer out of the windows, breathing in the city air from the five-inch openings on top, looking into the distance, searching for something, someone, or perhaps simply dreaming.

Most of the kids are seated, settling in for the long ride home. The bus creeps away from the curb, ready to bring the kids back to whatever part of N.Y. they came from. Brian slows the rescue enough to let the bus in. We’re in no hurry, and a little courtesy is never a bad idea.

Just as the line of traffic gets moving again, I hear shouting behind us: a happy sound, kids whooping it up. Dozens of them run past the slow-moving vehicles, flanking the bus, jumping up and down, waving and smiling from ear to ear.

The kids in the bus respond in kind, all of them standing now, hanging their hands out of those little window openings, high-fiving the grounded kids who can leap high enough to make contact.

I witness sweet mayhem for a minute, but then the bus picks up speed and moves down the hill, toward the city and the highway onramp.

The spontaneous honor guard follows, escorting the bus, shouting, waving, elbows and knees pumping, hearts pounding (some breaking, no doubt), if kids at summer camps still fall in love like they used to.

They keep up for a while before the machinery outpaces the humans and distance spreads. The honor guard keeps running. They catch the bus at the next light, more euphoria ensues, the joyous cacophony contagious as pedestrians and drivers — and tired EMTs in an ambulance — are caught up in the display of affection and sheer, unblemished happiness.

It is quite a display, and people caught in their daily routines forget about their problems for a minute, click off their cell phones, turn down their radios and join in. They honk their horns, raise their hands in the air or chirp their siren until the bus moves again, finally outdistancing the pack.

The tired runners slow down, then stop, then turn around and head back up the hill to wait for their own bus to take them back to wherever it is they come from, with new friendships formed and experiences that will last them a lifetime.

The group of strangers forming the traffic pattern falls back in line, and we pick up our cell phones and turn up the volume on our radios.

For a brief moment, we were connected, brought together by a bunch of kids who, at a distance, acted like a gang of hooligans. They probably were breaking the law by obstructing the normal flow of things. But sometimes, the normal flow of things needs a little shaking up, and I am grateful that I was caught in the middle of the nuttiness.

I’m stunned by the effect this little moment of magic has on me. This morning’s disasters — a 2-year-old who drowned in his backyard pool, the dead 25-year-old who overdosed on heroin and died in his bed with his parents in the next room, the beaten teen who will hold the rage and resentment inside until it explodes on some other poor soul — the hopeless and lost all recede to the back of my mind as the afternoon progresses and light shines through.

It is a moment of grace delivered at just the right time, and I never saw it coming or knew how badly I needed it.

Another call comes in, and we have to respond.

My voice sounds a little different when I answer the radio, and I wipe my eyes, knowing that no matter what, things will be all right.

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