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HERB BENHAM: Ready to be present and in person

I read something once. Death is over your left shoulder. Either left shoulder or your right shoulder, I'm not sure which. One of the shoulders.

I think the book was about peyote and the hallucinations that come with ingesting it. When you're on peyote, left shoulder, right shoulder, it could be your knees if your head is between them.

I was walking to the pool around 5 a.m. The walk is about 2½ miles from our house downtown to McMurtrey. It takes about 30 minutes if I'm on my horse and semi-pumping my arms, "semi" because you don't want people to think you're a lunatic although many of the people out at that time of morning are either in the club or knocking on the door seeking entrance.

I spice up the route. Sometimes I hightail it on 20th, 19th, 18th and 17th or opt for Truxtun heading toward Mechanics Bank, turning right and then zigzagging through the generous parking lot in front of the ice skating rink and the pool.

"Truxtun" because it's well-lit and I pass by the police station halfway through the walk. If I were to run into trouble, I imagined myself reaching the police station, pounding on the door and crying, "Let me in. They're coming either over my right or left shoulder. I'm not sure which, but it's one of them."

On the aforementioned morning, I was on the north side of Truxtun, passing by the city building (the old George Martin law firm edifice) that houses offices for the city manager, city attorney and other important people. I was halfway through the crosswalk on Eye Street, when I heard the screech of brakes, the sound a vehicle — in this case, a truck — makes when it has overcooked a turn.

I looked over one of my shoulders, no easy feat given the stiff neck syndrome, to see a truck barrel through the same sidewalk I was on, missing me by 2 feet. Had I had college hair, it would have whistled.

I was surprised, angry and relieved. What was that? Who was that? Why was that?

He sped toward The Californian building and then turned into the parking structure catty-corner to the newspaper's old haunts.

I started toward him. It was the man in me. The man that wanted to confront, settle and destroy, but then the rational man got the best of the man-man: If I called for a meeting would I suggest to him that he give peace a chance, ask for a restorative apology or try to help him with anger issues I suspected he might have?

I let it go because he was gone but also because I had enough work to do on myself to take on another project whose results could be uncertain. Better to look at it as a teaching moment. This time, I was a student.

I had been in sort of a funk on the walk, worrying about the sorts of things people worry about, most of which rarely pan out and at the moment I was in the crosswalk, I was a million miles away. There, not here, is not always an invitation for good things to happen.

A few days later, I was watching "Chef's Table" with my mom. This was the episode about Jeong Kwan, a Seon Buddhist nun and Korean chef who lives at the Baeggyangasa temple in South Korea and cooks for her fellow nuns and monks.

Kwan was 17 when her mother died and rather than pass down the pain of losing a parent, she left home and decided to become a monk.

Years later, she said: "My mother granted me the opportunity to enter this temple. Even today, I thank her for mercifulness and her compassion for allowing my pursuit of freedom."

Similarly, I owe a debt to the man in the blue truck — I think it was blue, but it could have been black — for the wake-up call. I'd like to thank him but it would be better if I do so in person.

Contact The Californian’s Herb Benham at 661-395-7279 or hbenham@bakersfield.com. His column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays; the views expressed are his own.