It was snowing and fourteen degrees outside as I zipped down the highway towards the Montessori school to sing happy-Earth-songs with the kids. But traffic slowed, and then almost completely stopped along a blind curve.
I tapped the steering wheel, turned up Beth Orton on the CD player, and tried to peer around the wide stance of the road to determine the hold up. A few minutes later, traffic picked up to about five miles per hour and as I rounded the bend I saw the telltale INMATES WORKING sign that pops up along the highways here at least a few times a week.
But hold on – INMATES WORKING in fourteen-degree weather with winds and little snow flakes falling down?
Without thinking I reached for the crisp, round organic Fuji apple I had sitting on the passenger seat next to me. I rolled down the car window and slowed as I approached the inmates.
What are you doing?, a voice inside me asked. But I slowed down even more. I was looking for pairs of eyes, glimmers of humanity, the promise of something real. Doing this was invigorating if for no other reason that it gave me the heebie-jeebies and infiltrated my body with a deep sadness at the same time.
What compelled me to slow down? What was I looking for anyway? I rolled up my window and sped on, having failed at eye contact or any other such encounters. But I realized not more than a mile down the road, the Fuji apple still held tightly in my hand, what my gesture had been entirely about.
I had wanted, with all my heart, to hand an inmate that apple and wish him a good day.