Looks Can be Deceiving

Looks can be deceiving.” She whispered in my ear.  She was a vision, beautiful. Then she spun and moved quickly away, melting into the crowd, out of sight.  She was ephemeral, a specter.  I looked for her, up and down the streets, but she was gone.  I convinced myself that I had imagined her and kept walking.  We were almost 200,000 strong and we had a purpose, a destination.  It was August 28th, 1963 and we had a task of great import.  We were marching on Washington to hear Dr. King.

Two young men came out of the crowd and linked arms with me.  We moved together along the mall towards the Lincoln Memorial. “Good morning, brother,” said the young man on my left.  “Where have you traveled from?”

The man on my right, slightly older, picked up the thread and asked, “How far have you come to be here on this most auspicious day?”  The lovely young lady who had been foremost in my thoughts was now replaced in my head by my two new companions.

“I came on the bus from Chicago,” I replied, “and I’m not sure what auspicious even means.”  We all laughed at that and kept walking.  I kept talking, “I’m not sure what today will bring gentlemen but, I’m excited.  Can you feel me shivering?  I am literally tingling with anticipation.”

Another man joined us and linked arms. He was an old man with a cane, accompanied by a young girl who was probably no more than fourteen, I would guess.  We slowed to match his pace.  He was a talkative old man and he introduced himself. “My name is Walter Teasdale” he said, “and this is my granddaughter, Elizabeth.” I looked over and there “she” was again standing next to the reflecting pond.  The voices around me receded. “My Angel,” I thought.  She held a sign over her head; hand lettering on cardboard.  It read “Looks can be deceiving.”

She noticed me notice her, tucked her sign under her arm, turned, lowered her eyes and moved away from us.  I tried to give chase.  I wanted to speak to her.  I wanted to hear her voice again.  She clearly had a message for me.  A message that told me, “looks could be deceiving.”  Mr. Teasdale, put his hand out and stilled my flight.

“Please sir, won’t you help me get my granddaughter to the front?  She is supposed to sing the national anthem today.”

I looked at the old man.  I looked at his granddaughter, I saw her wide, dark eyes and I nodded my head, “Of course.  Let’s go.”  It took almost an hour to pick our way to the front of the crowd but I wound up with a front row seat to history.  It was  spectacular, marred only by the fact that I never saw my angel again that day.

In fact, I did not see her again for five years. The next time I spotted her was August 1968 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  Dr. King had been killed a few months earlier and an undercurrent of violence and civil unrest was prevalent throughout the country, but it felt especially intense in my hometown of Chicago.  She was standing at the back of the Amphitheater.  She was standing, waiting, beneath a banner that read, “Looks can be deceiving.”  I caught her eye, she waved.  A small wave, really no more than a slight movement of her fingers.  She turned and ducked through a door beneath a green exit sign.

“Wait,” I called.  “Wait, please,” and I ran after her.  But, again, I was too slow.  She was gone, not a trace.

I saw her only one time more after that, 1972.  Nixon had just been re-elected.  It was late November, twilight. That time of day when the sky is still blue but a darker, richer blue, turning quickly to black.  I was in New York, driving by Central Park. Most of the leaves had fallen from the trees.  She stood beneath one, a web of bare branches above her head.  My taxi never slowed.  She and I locked eyes and she smiled; a beautiful smile.  Her lips moved and I am sure I know what she was saying but, I never figured out why she was trying to communicate with me.  I have come to the conclusion that perhaps, it was a joke – a joke of cosmic proportions.

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26 thoughts on “Looks Can be Deceiving

  1. What a mysterious woman! And to have so many encounters with her (without really meeting her) – I’d want to find out the meaning of the message as well.

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  2. Good story and an excellent wrap to tie together such apocryphal moments in history. I thought that perhaps your angel was your angel of death – but she wasn’t or is she?
    Cheerio, Jane

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    • Oh, Kathy – I can’t answer your question directly. I can tell you the same thing that my dad used to say to me when I would ask him about his abstract and/or non-objective paintings, “What is it to you? What do you see?”
      When I was young it frustrated me when he would do that, but I began to understand when I realized that he believed the experience of the piece was up to the viewer. It should be personal and what it means to one may be different from what it means to another. He did not want to force the viewers experience to coincide with his perception. Does that make sense?

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  3. Nicely written. It had a soft and easy flow, and it felt (to me as a reader) that I was walking in time with the crowd, or stood in the theatre. It even changed pace at the end to represent the moving vehicle. I completely understand your reluctance to define the character. It’s important to let the reader (or observer) take something from each piece. To me she was a reminder (a conscious part of him). The part that knows how important it is to stop and reflect, because life is to be experienced and every event is significant in its own way.
    Thanks for sharing. I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

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  4. A unique story. I wonder, too, what she was trying to communicate. The idea is an important one to keep in mind — I guess that’s why it’s a common phrase.

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  5. Oh man, I really wish he could have met her. I like that tension was constantly building, but man, they seemed made for each other. *sigh*

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