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Look

Discovering what can always be found

By Sonia Heidi UnruhPublished 19 days ago 4 min read
Top Story - July 2024
Arizona sunset - author's photo

When I hear story I think beginning, middle, end. I think, we meet a character, something happens, and then the character -- and/or the world they inhabit -- is not the same.

I'm not sure if this qualifies as a story -- more of a vignette, really. A snapshot of a moment, but one of those motion photos that includes a few seconds around the freeze frame. It is a oft-clicked screen in my memory album.

The only character in the picture is me, age 12ish. The setting is outside our house in Tucson, Arizona, in the evening. We have a large stone porch and a largish front yard, mostly dirt and scrub grass (lawns are a luxury in the desert), with a swing set for my younger siblings. We are materially poor, but not desperate. The house is worn, perhaps even a bit shabby, but respectably comfortable.

But if you pull back to a wider lens, beyond the chain link fence around our yard, the setting tips from scruffy to seedy. The theme for the rest of our block is run-down. Many of the yards are overgrown with tall, sticker-y weeds surrounding islands of broken furniture and sun-bleached old toys. Rusted, flat-wheeled cars dot the street. The sidewalks are a map of cracks that reveal no treasure, only the glitter of broken glass bits in the sun.

Our house borders a narrow, dusty alleyway. Across the alley is a bar. It is mostly hidden from our view by the thick bushes that line our fence, but there is no barrier keeping out the loud music and raucous conversation. Doors slam as cars peel in and out of our street. Occasionally a shouted exclamation strays drunkenly into our airspace.

The proximity of the bar never makes me feel fear. The patrons never harass us, and often wave a friendly hello as they walk (or stumble) past our house. Perhaps I am at that time too naïve of the possibilities to be afraid.

But I do feel greatly annoyed. Especially since it is my chore to pick up trash in and around our yard. The bargoers' trash makes its way across the alley in large quantities -- tangled in the bushes, plastered against the fence, mangled in the street gutter, blown into our yard. Beer bottles from whole to shattered, beer cans from whole to smashed, wrappers and uneaten food in all stages of decomposition, miscellaneous papers, empty cigarette packs, and endless cigarette butts.

And from time to time, discarded articles of clothing, and other items I try not to think about as I drop them into my big trash bag with my double-gloved hands.

Thankfully, the bar only hops on the weekends, so the stream of refuse ebbs and flows. But come Sunday, I will find litter strewn across the ground as bountifully as manna.

So this is where we find the young me, snatching scraps of newspaper from the bushes like a robin yanking worms out of peat, trying to finish my trash collection duty before dusk. It's unfair, I am thinking. No matter how much debris I remove, underneath is just dirty dirt. Like trying to sweep an oil-soaked beach clean. It's disgusting. It's ugly.

My trash harvesting takes an existential turn. Is there ever any end to the ugliness, the banality of it all? I can't see any future for myself beyond this dingy alley. What hope is there of escape from squalor when humankind makes messes wherever we go? I feel like sweeping up the whole pitiful neighborhood, the whole crummy world, into my black Hefty bag, tying the top and chucking the lot.

I pick up my last cigarette butt and head for the dumpster behind the house. There I have a more open view than the cluttered alley and house-strewn street. Raising the dumpster lid, I glance up.

The sunset is blazing across the wide sky. It's winter in Tucson, chill but not cold, and the air is clear. The evening is uncharacteristically quiet. The streaming colors make their own symphony.

I stand still and look and look. The palm trees darken into silhouettes, heightening the fading brilliance of the golds and reds, until their bushy tops are lost in the dusk.

I say to myself, as if echoing a message left in the last luminous rays: There will always be beauty. If I look for it.

And then I choke back an inexplicable urge to cry, wipe off my hands, and go back inside, where all is warmth and light and family.

Now, this image dissolves and I close the screen. But I can still hear the voice. I've heard it all the years since, when I've found myself in unlovely places, doing irksome tasks, facing bleak situations. The voice challenges me to look for the good in people who are distressed or difficult. The voice inspires me to seek out the nugget of polished crystal among the glass shards of painful experiences.

Since this snippet of a story, the world has not changed. As a society we still discard our broken bits, and broken people, without a care. Desolation and meanness and waste, if unchecked, will continue to proliferate. I still protest ugliness -- both around and within me. But.

There will always be beauty. Look for it.

* * * *

Written in response to Hannah Moore's invitation to share stories of hope:

humanityfact or fiction

About the Creator

Sonia Heidi Unruh

I love: my husband and children; all who claim me as family or friend; the first bite of chocolate; the last blue before sunset; solving puzzles; stroking cats; finding myself by writing; losing myself in reading; the Creator who is love.

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Comments (20)

  • Alex Nguyen12 days ago

    This article beautifully captures the essence of personal growth and the journey towards self-acceptance. I appreciate the depth of insight and relatable experiences shared here. If you're interested in more stories and reflections on life, feel free to visit my blog at https://mylivevn.wordpress.com/. Keep up the great work!

  • D.K. Shepard12 days ago

    Stunning writing! You create a full world from the memory, grounding us fully to take flight again with the message of hope alongside you!

  • Rachel Robbins16 days ago

    There are some beautiful phrases in this. I really felt your frustration at the litter picking. Then the wider lens, the bigger look around. Congratulations on Top Story.

  • ROCK 17 days ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!

  • Yes, there will definitely always be beauty if we look for it. And also there will be love, hope and humanity scattered about if we choose to look for it and to tend it: water it, value it and believe in it. This was so important and well done Sonia. Thank you for publishing this story!!!

  • Novel Allen17 days ago

    There is indeed beauty in everything if one looks deep enough. There can be danger around but familiarity and a fugue state can dull our perception of time and place. If we can but see the beauty and know when to fear, we are truly at peace with self. Really beautiful writing. Congrats.

  • Cyrus17 days ago

    Congrats on TS!

  • Visa Ong18 days ago

    Great post👍

  • Fly Alone18 days ago

    acute misery but you end it so positively: "There will always be beauty. Look for it." The social reality and commentary are at their peak.

  • Babs Iverson18 days ago

    Fabulous and loved it!!! Congratulations on Top Story!!!❤️❤️💕

  • Congratulations on your top story.

  • Andrea Corwin 18 days ago

    You have shared a wonderful story here and I totally agree with you - the beauty is there; sometimes hidden, but if we search, or look, we can see it! Congrats on TS🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉

  • Well deserved Top Story & excellent entry for Hannah’s challenge!💖 I loved the entire story, especially lines like “But come Sunday, I will find litter strewn across the ground as bountifully as manna.’ What wisdom to carry from such a young age “ There will always be beauty. If I look for it.”✅

  • Rachel Deeming18 days ago

    Such an uplifting message and a way to view life. I loved this. Warmed my heart.

  • Cathy holmes18 days ago

    Simply beautiful storytellin. The memory paints a vivid picture and I love the message that there's always beauty if we look. Well done and congrats on the TS.

  • Charles Martin18 days ago

    Amazingly written!

  • shanmuga priya18 days ago

    Congratulations 🎉 for top story.A favourite tag for your writing.

  • Gabriel Huizenga18 days ago

    This is incredible- vivid, living images and a true window into hope found in a difficult place. Thank you for sharing this beautiful, beautiful piece.

  • John Cox18 days ago

    This is amazing, Sonia! You brought this memory to stunning life! Exceptional challenge entry!

Sonia Heidi UnruhWritten by Sonia Heidi Unruh

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