“As Good And As Bad As I”

[Kirkland Street Lilacs, Cambridge, MA, April 30, 2017]

Sunday, just as I passed the bushes pictured above—”Somerbridge” boosts thousands of lilac bushes in bloom this week— a car pulled to the curb, its passenger-side window rolled down, and a young, pleasant-looking woman plaintively called, “Can you help me? I’m trying to find the Sheraton Commander and my GPS has me going in circles!”   So I gave her the directions to the hotel. A five-minute drive. At most.

“I don’t think I can do this.” She sounded close to tears.

Reader? Honestly? I was annoyed. Insulted. “I just told you where to go,” I inwardly seethed. “What more do you want?”

But then it hit me: Maybe she’s had no experience remembering First This. Then This. Then This. And, finally this. And you’re there. If you’ve relied on GPS your whole life, taking in, absorbing a series of verbal instructions just might be daunting!

So I played the only card I had: (Empowered) Woman to woman. “You got this!” I cheered. “You can do this! You’re practically there, already. It’s not going to be hard.” I reviewed my instructions. She repeated them back to me this time. I corrected her. I raised my fist in the air. And off she drove.

The prevailing, intoxicating scent of my hometown this week—watching sidewalk passersby inhale my lilacs makes me so happy—and this brief yet touching exchange with a stranger brought to mind a poem, excerpted here, written by a Somerville librarian and journalist many years ago. It’s not a great poem. But apt:

The House by the Side of the Road

by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

There are hermit
souls that live withdrawn
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house
by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears-
Both parts of an infinite plan;-
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened
meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.


Join the Conversation


  1. What a wonderful piece, Patricia. The writing is so plain and inviting with the story “pedestrian” in all the whole glory of the puns. It is approachable and drew me in thoroughly. I adore your companion poem which accompanies me and my journey with you, the driver, our community, and our faith. This is really our Quaker faith where similar faiths along the branch we’re on has removed themselves in some way while we vibrantly live in and among.

    Grateful for your writing,

  2. Dear Patricia,

    Well, hi, there, Patricia, my so, so very For Always awesomely precious and dearly special soul sisterfriend Christian Quaker woman who you’re For Always so, so very much!!!!! WOW, sister, WOW-I so absolutely love this very outstanding, engaging, and, in fact, empowering blog post article here, Patricia. My friend, I so, so very much love, enjoy, and appreciate the beautiful, supremely lovely picture which you have very graciously and generously featured and included here with your very stupendous blog post article here. I, too, love lilacs with their very vibrant colors! Your Kirkland Street Lilacs at “Somerbridge” blooming vividly are such a beauty to behold. Sister, in our backyard of the house where I grew up we had absolutely gorgeous purple lilacs and white lilacs. Wow, I remember how my now late mother really enjoyed the sheer beauty of those lilacs and I did as well. What a sweet fragrance with its enticing perfume that lilacs give to us for certain, Patricia. A short time ago I went to one of my local sisterfriend’s home to visit with her and she has such dainty lilacs in her backyard. She cut a bunch of the glorious lilacs for me to take home. Wow, they were just so pretty and gave forth such a delightful aroma, sisterfriend!

    Sister, I thank-YOU for how you have as usual as always featured and included a very interesting link with this awesome blog post article by absolutely awesome YOU, Patricia! Wow, I’ve noticed the same things about our young people like with the young woman who you empowered in giving her directions with her faltering GPS dilemma. Very many young persons are so accustomed to relying on technology rather than doing things the way people our age would do things manually the old-fashioned, hard way that they are completely discombobulated when technology fails them. Sister, you are so right. The young woman had difficulty comprehending old school instructions like with, “First This. Then This. Then This. And, finally this. And you’re there.” Very many of our young people haven’t learned how to do things relying on good ol’ brain power and doing things manually or in using physicality. Very often our young folks are more acclimated to being dependent on technology. Sisterfriend, I always say that I am such a dinosaur and that I am stuck back in the 1970s somehow. When I need to have information on a subject I can go even an entire day thinking that I need to somehow find out that info then I realize that I can just google and otherwise look for that info on the Web. It still doesn’t always occur to me to check the Internet, sister. I remember that back in the day if I need information not in my books at home that I would go to the library and do the research there even at times asking a reference librarian to help me. I am still not as acclimated to technology and to the easy access of technology, Patricia. I think that our young people to some extent process things differently than we do, my so, so very dearest and darling friend, Patricia. I so, so very much love, enjoy, and appreciate how you so helped this in need of help young woman by helping her not only with directions but also in connecting to and engaging in her agency and empowerment. Wow, sister, I loved bearing witness to this as I very joyfully read your cool full of spirit words as to how you empowered her woman to woman, Patricia! Now this is just what I love and like to see here all of us together in the great unity of the spirit as women, as sisters in connections to one another even the simplest exchanges we have with other women who are strangers and acquaintances along our day, and in our friendships, as sisters in sisterhood, and in relationships. We have our sisterhood as American women and also we have our global sisterhood as women and sisters together throughout our world, Patricia. Wow, just does my very, very heart, and also my very, very heart, mind, soul, and spirit such abundantly bountiful good very joyfully reading your powerful words here as you greatly emboldened and encouraged this young woman in her quandary. Now this is just what I so love and like to see: making those sisters’ connections heart to heart and spirit to spirit, and even making those connections as we reach out to each other with people in general, too, Patricia. Wow!!!! Yay!!!! I just really delighted in your very deeply profound story about your talk in helping this so, so very dearest young woman, sister and friend of mine, Patricia! Sister, how you were very encouraging to her and inspiring her toward action were such a great joy for me to behold here from your great words here! Wow!!!! Yay!!!!

    Sister, I just loved this very apt and deeply spiritual poem here by the late Sam Walter Foss who had been a Somerville librarian and journalist. Wow, what a very right on and profound poem here with such a catchy in-depth quality to it. Patricia, I love how you used a quote from this marvelous poem for your very fine and excellent title to this fascinating blog post article by you here, my friend! His splendid poem truly spoke to me and to my heart and spirit. Sister, I think I remember how you very graciously and generously featured and included another spectacular poem by Sam Walter Foss awhile back with your magnificent blog post article. Sisterfriend, what a blessing and such a joy when you very wisely feature and include others’ poems with your insightful blog post articles, Patricia!

    Sister, you help me very greatly and immensely bless me with my very walk with Spirit!!!!! I thank Spirit continually for YOU, Patricia, and for YOUR very presence in my life!!!! YAY for YOU, Patricia!!!! YAY for all of your astounding blog post articles, other great writings, and books!!!! YAY for all you do so, so very well in such a fine and excellent manner, sister!!!! YAY for our very sisterhood and friendship, Patricia!!!!! YAY YAY YAY YAY!!!!! Please have such a fantastic and fun-filled Friday, a wondrously wonderful weekend ahead, and may all of your very days be so, so very especially blessed!!!! Spirit so, so very much loves and cherishes YOU, Patricia, and so do I!!!!!! :)!!!!!!

    Very Warmly and Sincerely For Always, my so, so very For Always dearly precious and awesomely special soul sisterfriend Christian Quaker white woman who you’re For Always so, so very much, Patricia, with My and God’s Peace and Love For You For Always, friend of mine, and with Such Blessings and Such Very Even More Blessings For You For Always, sister of mine,

    Yours For Always soul sisterfriend Christian black woman and For Always in the very great spirit of unity and solidarity, Sherry Gordon in Iowa City, Iowa

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