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Standing at the intersection of peace and ice cream

I was heading out the door, mask donned, when I stopped. We were on Day 12 of the Black Lives Matter protests. My daughter, who lives a 5-minute drive away, had texted that a “f’ing huge” crowd of protesters had just passed her house.

I wasn’t afraid — I’m a child of the ’60s, plus a veteran of four marches within the past three and a half years. Activism is an instinct. I’m a writer, for goodness sake. Writers want to be heard, to connect with and possibly persuade others; otherwise, we’d be accountants or ballet dancers and content keeping journals.

A spot of “forest bathing” seemed overdue. Time among my friends the trees to wash away eight weeks of spiritual sepsis, courtesy of the two contagions plaguing our nation, COVID-19 and racism. That said, if my walk intersected with the protesters’ — well, obviously, the universe had other plans in mind.

I returned indoors for my wallet, dropping it into my kit. I prefer to protest like I write, with an outline of the day’s work ahead. Obviously, today, this wouldn’t be the case. Still, having funds on hand for a cup of coffee, a sandwich or bail was reassuring.

To reach my thicket of woods, I wind through suburbia. This morning, all save the crows, sparrows and breeze was quiet. No chants, no sirens. Either the protest had ended or headed south of me.

I had turned onto my favorite street when I heard music. Bona fide circus music. Was a real, happy circus coming to town, rather than the wrenching circus ring-mastered 24/7 by the news?

The calliope music grew louder. Families spilled into the street, then lined up politely at the ice cream truck’s window.

Visions of Creamsicles danced in my head as I approached. Unfortunately, so did my pre-diabetic A1C and too-high triglyceride count. Smiling wistfully behind my mask at the families in line, I walked on by.

Within moments, however, I was retracing my steps.

“Hello,” I called over the music when, at last, it was my turn.

“You want ice cream?” the driver asked in a thick Armenian accent.

I handed him a $10 bill, hoping it was enough. Who knew what ice cream truck-treats cost these days? “I want to buy ice cream for your next customers.”

His brows furrowed. “You want ice cream?” he repeated.

I pointed as discretely as I could at the family a couple blocks ahead. Hopefully they were paying no attention to us. “I want to pay for their ice cream.”

“Like a gift.”

“Yes! But don’t tell them it’s from me. It’s a surprise. A secret.”

His eyes’ smile lines crinkled. “This will be fun.”

If this were a work of fiction, I’d be tempted to make my gift’s recipients Black, to italicize the protest backdrop. In reality, however, the family was white. Whiter than I am with my 97 percent North African/Middle Eastern heritage.

The irony struck me instantly as memories I’d long thought dead sprouted like dandelions in cracked concrete:

? Having a tiff with a blond-haired, blue-eyed pal during a sleepover at her house. Looking for her, to make amends, when I heard her mother say, “Well, she’s different.”

? Overhearing myself described ad nauseum as “the dark one.”

? Heading out to a parking lot with a classmate, “laughing” at how her mother invariably scowled at me from her big, white Cadillac.

? Being ashamed because Robert Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Bishara Sirhan had a middle name pronounced like my surname.

? Being teased as a “sand nigger” from “Lesbianon.”

? A WASP in-law worrying my unborn child would resemble my (swarthy) brother; my relief when both my children looked “American.”

? Straightening — and destroying — my hair too many times to count.

? A friend saying to me immediately after the Oklahoma bombing, “your people did this.”

? Feeling queasy on 9/11.

Granted, I have never feared an encounter with the police would turn deadly, never had The Talk with my son ... but I am beginning to get it. To do as Atticus Finch advised Scout and “climb in his skin and walk around in it.”

Dandelion memories can be “strained” into a healing tea.

The calliope music returned. The truck stopped; the driver leaned out the passenger window. “I’m glad I found you.”

“You treated the family?”

He nodded. “Then the man gives me another $10 and says to use it for the next family. You’re a good lady. God bless you.”

No, no, no — I’d been the one blessed.

Better yet, my small step of generosity had enlisted another “protester.”

“Paying it forward” as a form of protest may seem naive, simplistic. I wondered, too. But then I recalled it was MLK who said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Ultimately Black Lives Matter means all lives matter.

And I don’t mean this in the glib, dismissive way those contesting the protest do. I say this because, for me, it all boils down to one fact: humankind evolved in Africa. You can’t argue with 6-million-year old fossils.

There are those who will argue regardless, bless their scarred hearts.

Yet “calliope” means “beautiful voice,” and the calliope will continue to play. Heartbreakingly beautiful voices will drown out the ugly ones.

In fact, it was Calliope, the muse of eloquence, who nudged me to look upward as the ice cream truck chugged on its way.

I was standing at the corner of Palm Street and Olive Avenue. At the sacred intersection of symbols of peace. You can’t get more eloquent than that.

Jenine Baines is a retired arts publicist who now focuses on publicizing the wondrous, beautiful and inspiring spiritual works of art in the world. Email 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at innerpeaceforyou@outlook.com.