I am running in downtown Flint, a city I love. I run here whenever I can, enjoying the urban feel with all its noises and neighborhoods, variety and color. As I weave my way, I consider the negative narrative that is often shared of this place … a community of resilient hope and surprising treasure that has earned instead all the respect, appreciation, and love that we can give it.
I run here partly out of defiance of those who want to perpetuate the sad story. I desire to “be the change.” I keep eyes wide open, noting the good, praying for friends who live here, and holding in high regard the two colleges that educate minds of all ages. As I thread through the campuses of both Mott and UM-Flint, I marvel at the ways the grounds are cared for by those who are committed to create oases in our little city.
Turning a corner, I run through the park between the Farmers’ Market and UM. This is the place where just last week I came upon a jazz concert one day and grandparents dancing with their grandchild the next.
I’m lost in my thoughts until I see something peculiar up ahead, splashes of color carelessly tossed onto the gray sidewalk. I get closer and recognize them. It’s the zinnias. One here. There. Another and another. Around the corner, more.
These are the zinnias I always see, their perfectly happy, colorful faces cheering me on from the campus flower beds along Kearsley. But the ones on the sidewalk have been slashed, their stems hacked, and their bodies strewn about. I forget my own troubles as my imagination runs wild, guessing first at the person’s pain that was so acute at that moment that they decided to take it out on the flowers. Next, I think of the person who painstakingly planted the beauties, considering the joy they must feel that they’ve finally bloomed, and the discouragement they will no doubt feel when they see them hacked down.
Fortunately, only a dozen or so lay dying, so I decide to preserve what I can, both of the carnage and the pride of the person who planted them. I must save the flowers.
I begin gathering them up in gentle hands, doing so quickly since I know my efforts will incriminate me in the process. Cradling my colorful bouquet, I cut my run short and begin to think of the vases I’ll put them in to keep them alive a while longer. Someone must love them. It might as well be me.
Then, while I run (stealthily, I hope) blue glass catches my eye. I turn back to a pile of Bud Light Platinum bottles, carelessly tossed on the ground against a chain link fence. I select one to become a vase for a few of these lovelies, knowing exactly how dazzling their colors will look against the cobalt blue.
As I take off again running, I see what others see: a slightly crazed woman with “stolen” flowers in one hand and a beer in the other. And I laugh, removing all doubt that I have, in fact, completely lost my mind.
I press on, laughing more. I laugh until my run becomes a walk, until tears form in my eyes and spill onto my cheeks. I know why they’re there. My tears represent joy and possibility, and the fact that beauty can be found and experienced in the most unlikely of places.
Eileen Button teaches at Mott Community College and serves patrons at the Genesee District Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.