Thursday, May 31, 2018

Bucky Hunting™ (or, The Things You Can See by Looking)

For me and my two oldest kids, this summer is all about the Buckys.

No, we're not picking up extra jobs for some added cash on the side; we're all-in on Dane County's #BuckyOnParade promotion, which has filled the county with 85 life-size Bucky Badger statues, each decorated by local artists around a different theme. #BuckyOnParade activity books make it easy for kids to keep track of both the Buckys they have found and the Buckys they are yet to find, and certain milestone achievements (10, 25, and 50 Buckys collected, respectively) can be acknowledged and rewarded at local establishments with ice cream coupons, temporary tattoos, etc. The kids are up to 61, eager to claim their 50 Bucky prize from the Dream Bank.

People are roaming Dane County (my kids and I covered over nine miles on foot these past two days) and finding each other, along with the Buckys, and the whole thing has given the summer a delightfully playful aura and an imaginative way to build community. Equipped with sponsorships from local businesses and a scheduled end of parade auction in September, the promotion has already raised a lot of money and awareness for local charities. The whole thing is pretty brilliant and fun.

Part of the point of the project is to pay more attention to the county we call home. So Buckys are strategically placed in locations that, if one seeks out enough of them, eventually take a person out of her comfort zone or cause him to see his place in a way he hadn't before. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, Bucky Hunting™ is an exercise in the truth that you can see a lot by looking.

Of course, implicit in the challenge is the suggestion that there is much about the places we call home that, day in and day out, we take for granted or don't see. Our lives, with their rhythms and routines, necessitate that we privilege and prioritize those parts of our surroundings that will rise to the level of Things That Receive Our Attention. So we sport our filters, because noticing everything would exhaust us. A simple example is the lament I hear from so many students on campus: that they've never been in a richer academic environment, and yet to do what that environment requires of them in their studies often necessitates that they ignore the vast majority of that which lies beyond their particular discipline.

It is a real gift to be given a game that invites us to see again what we have grown blind to seeing.

In addition to rediscovering the beauty, opportunity, and myriad amazing restaurants in and around Madison, I hope my fellow Bucky Hunters have been fortunate enough to have seen things that unsettle them. I hope they have met new friends like Skip, whom Jude and I met under the Warner Park Pavilion. We were there for water and a bathroom break, not quite decided between following the barn swallows a little longer or seeking out Broadcaster Bucky. Skip came up with a four-pack of tall boys and a small bottle of vodka. He greeted us warmly. We visited for a while before Skip looked over his shoulder and said kindly, "Y'all are going to want to be moving along. There's a group of folks coming who are going to drink too much and this will be no place for your son." I thanked him for the warning, and we talked a little longer about Marvel comics and movies before moving along.

"Daddy, why is our friend Skip going to drink like that with his friends?"

"Because life can be challenging and painful, it's not always fair or right the way things go or what people have to go through, and drinking can be a way to hide that pain for a little bit. But the pain doesn't go away for long, and drinking like that can make things more painful. You need to know that, if you ever find yourself in that kind of pain, you can ask for help."


"Yeah, buddy?"

"I'm glad we met a friend. Skip."

"Me, too."

A couple of days later, we were on the Square, this time with Annie, and I was expecting to run into friends, because Madison is a small town kind of city. I hadn't realized how, after six years in Madison, many of the friends I would recognize were those experiencing homelessness or transitioning out of it, who had visited St. Francis House through the years. We don't give financial assistance at St. Francis House, but I try to make time to listen and be present to all of those who come through our doors. That day on the Square, it was hard not to notice that photos of the children with certain Bucky statues required careful staging, if those still sleeping on the sidewalks of the Square were to be omitted from the official record of the Parade.

We were still on the Square some time later when a woman called out to us. "Did you and your kids get a picture with the Bucky on the steps of the jail? It's a good one!" I shared that we had, that the kids loved the piece. "Of course," she said, "I wasn't there for the Bucky, but it was good. I was there to see my friend. I hoped to pick him up today. He's scheduled to be released today, but they're closed for the holiday." I cringed my bafflement at the thought of a holiday keeping a man behind bars. "I'll pick him up, if all goes well, on Wednesday." "I'm so sorry," I said. "I hope you can pick him up Wednesday." That Bucky is called "The Power of Working Together."

I share these things, I hope, without either self-righteousness or shaming. God knows I have no grounds for either. Day in and day out, I feel a combination of profound inadequacy and humbling wonderment that my presence, in all its inadequacy, with no promise of improvement for the various and difficult situations I encounter, is received with warmth and generosity.

So the Bucky walks have filled me with gratitude for all of those who walk as and with those that most days go unseen, when our days are filled with more than wide-eyed wandering, in search of Buckys. I hope the Parade reconnects us, or gives us the next piece of an imagination for how we might be connected, we who pass our days mostly invisible to each other. I hope the Buckys make space in us for us to rediscover how we are implicated in each other's lives, how we belong to each other, and what acknowledging our belonging to each other might look like, we who are neighbors, strangers, and - with God's help and mercy - potentially friends.

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