Tuesday, December 8, 2009

From a Lightning-Struck Fountain

Lake Eola near downtown Orlando is a pleasant sight, blue with water, green with the kind of light greenery found in a warm climate. Swans swim smoothly in the lake while white ibises stay close to the shore picking food with their curved long beaks.

A man standing by a Chinese-style pavilion was smiling at me, so I smiled back and we struck up a conversation. He was middle-aged with a kind, intelligent face. The fact that he was hanging out in a park in shorts on a Tuesday morning and idle enough to watch me taking photos of birds and palm trees told me that he's probably out of work. My hunch was right, he'd just been laid off from a position with the county after nineteen years of service.

I noticed his red University of Maryland T-shirt, so we found out we used to live in the same county in suburban Washington, which gave us some more fuel for further conversation. Then I called his attention to an unsightly structure hulking in the middle of the lake. John explained that it was a big fountain which had been adorning the lake scene for many long years until struck down by lightning in a storm just a few months ago.

"Isn't it amazing that something beautiful when functioning should become so ugly when it no longer does its job?" I remarked.

A moment of hesitation, then he replied in a voice tinged with sadness, "I guess so."

I cursed myself for being such an insensitive jerk. Of course I had touched his pain of no longer performing a job. Hastily I changed the topic.

Lake Eola in Orlando, Florida

Last week I accompanied a woman who needed help in English to an unemployment office in suburban Atlanta. It was a cold, wet, windy and gloomy day. The parking lot was chock full, and there was a sign announcing that extra spaces were available at a nearby church. Inside, the office was so packed with tired, depressed faces patiently and resignedly waiting for their names to be called that there were not enough seats to be had. A few smiles here and there, but they were all strained. The civil servants here were considerably less than civilized as attested by the rudeness they were dispensing to the people who were unfortunate enough to end up visiting their office -- people like John, kind and intelligent, who have been struck by a different kind of lightning but with the same devastating effect as the one that struck that fountain in Orlando.

I wish, oh how I wish them the best.

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