Dear Friends at Sunrise,
Thank you for all you do to support and improve the health of all our community members. I write to express my sadness with an ad I have seen while online. Perhaps you can forward my comments to your marketing department. In this ad, two people hold hands as they jump off a height and onto an inflated thing in water that launches someone else into the air. Unfortunately, the person (child?) caroms off something hard and, we are expected to imagine, lands in the water only to be rushed to the ER. If it were me or my child, I would be averse to such an event being replayed ad infinitum. I would also hate for others to misinterpret such injuries as child’s play and attempt to experience the ‘thrill’ of survival.
No one asked for my two cents but I share them in hopes of bringing light, not heat, to a world in need of healing.
On my way to intercession this afternoon, I came across a couple of kids fighting across the street from church. They were surrounded by a mixed audience of children of about the same age. I beeped my horn and told them to stop fighting at once. They considered their options, retrieved backpacks, and continued on their way home. As it was likely that the fight would resume once they turned the corner, I turned the car around, wound down the window and put my flashers on, creeping alongside them and yes, I was intent on following them home. I wasn’t certain what would happen when I got there, but for the moment it was enough to give everyone a chance to cool down. Silently, I prayed they’d become a generation of peacemakers.
After they had recovered from the shock that I was in fact escorting them home and I had declined an offer of potato chips, I told them that I’d stopped fighting in 5th grade when it occurred to me that I had a choice that would set the tone for my life then and there. I added that third grade reading levels are used to determine the location of new prison construction, that I work at the local community college, had gone all the way in school, and had high expectations for each of them.
When I mentioned that I had been on my way to the church they’d been fighting in front of, Aguilas, three of the maybe seven youths volunteered which churches they attended: Mountaintop, Shadow Ridge & New Antioch. Among the many thoughts that arose since this afternoon the one I most want an answer to is, what can we do to discourage bystander behavior in the body of Christ?
After conversations and pineapple upside down cake, a walk, saunter really, around the grassy area; and a perusal of the sales circulars, we enter the house. I murder a cricket (is murder reserved for actions between members of the same species?); put the spare change that discharges from the crossbody whose open pockets disgorge their contents with the effort of squashing It before it sees Me, and read Jane Kenyon’s Happiness, aloud.
It rings true against the noise of traffic outside my windows. Rings true against the water bottle weary of being washed and not otherwise upended. Rings true against the testimonies exchanged in and around the writing center this afternoon. Somewhere a cricket calls to one of its kind. Is it a battle cry or a dirge? Was it his child I murdered or maimed?
It’s not hard to imagine what to do with a billion dollars. After tithing & offering 20% to my church, I’d finally build the four-story community center I’ve imagined since my glorious summer of Swahili and dance classes at Elmcor the summer I turned 13. Only now, with more money than I’d imagined, I’d build one in each of several cities, add the Algebra Project and teacher training retreats at each location.
These community centers would have a library on one floor with hardback and digital collections, music, art, and dance studios on another floor, a juice bar & gathering place for poetry on the ground floor, and an art gallery on top. People who could or couldn’t pay for classes would donate their time and a foundation would be endowed at each location to provide oversight and inspiration.
Staff would be paid top dollar but educational and other benefits, after the sheer joy of being there with kindred spirits, would be the things that set these centers apart. Educational debt forgiveness after three years’ service would be one benefit and credit counseling and investing would be another -with seed money provided to start a stock portfolio for use during class. Who knows what the ripple effects might be…
It has often been remarked that travel heightens the senses like nothing else can. My personal life experience bears this out. After traveling through Egypt and Israel as part of a group of 22 university students from Washington, D. C., I’d stopped in Greece to see if the baklava could hold a candle to the one my house mother made for me in middle school. In addition to love, her dish had been served with stories of philosophers and tales from history told with such fervor that I fell in love with her son and vowed to visit their homeland. I made good on that promise in fewer than five years after eighth grade graduation.
One weekend before the trip, I’d been walking down Wisconsin avenue and stopped by a cart offering handmade jewelry for sale. One ring in particular caught my eye. It was a series of leaves connected by clusters of what might have been grapes, delicately rendered. The trouble with it was that it only fit my left hand. I was 19 and superstitious at the time but, hearing a small voice within, I threw caution to the winds and wore it home in anticipation.
The trip was memorable for all the wrong reasons, including getting stranded for the weekend in the Tel Aviv airport and the bombing of Syria while we were in Israel. By the time I got to Athens, all I could do was sleep and shuffle down to a sandwich cart outside of the Y for a bit to eat before going back to bed each afternoon. I managed to exchange a few words with the changing cast of roommates each evening and that’s how I ended up on a bus in Santorini where I met The Stranger. Though what happened doesn’t technically count as a ‘meeting’.
You remember the ring? Well, the little voice that had urged its purchase had told me that I was going to fall in love that summer. And as faithful as prophecy, I had in fact fallen in love and that man was seated at my side as we waited for the bus driver to return. Being a hot afternoon in August, the windows on the bus were down to allow for any stray breeze to tantalize the wilted passengers. I remember the sweep of the Aegean Sea before us, sunlight dancing on the waves; the smell of sun-drenched skin, tanning oils, insect repellent and hint of basil my boyfriend’s shirts emitted – which to this day remains my favorite scent on earth. I can hear the crunch of tires on gravel as cars and bicycles came and went.
How long I had been looking out into forever this way I don’t remember – only that something in my peripheral vision arrested my attention. I turned my head to focus on it – a man on a bicycle pedaling up, then past us. Something about him made my heart leap. It may have been the shock of crinkly hair standing out at angles from his head. Hair like mine – when I let it grow. Hair that reminded me of home, both the home of my birth, Jamaica, and the home of all my aesthetic preferences – Africa. Something about me must have called to him too because no sooner had he passed my window than he doubled back and, leaning against the side of the bus, stood on the bike pedals and drew me into his arms. Not a word was spoken between us – except perhaps in our hearts. Giddy from the encounter, I turned to share it with the beloved at my left hand. The fact that the two of us shared no common language couldn’t explain the fact that there were no words for what had just happened. We simply smiled and entwined our fingers, sliding imperceptibly closer together on the seat.
As an immigrant teacher of immigrants President Obama’s use of his discretionary authority to protect some of the most vulnerable residents of our country means I have one more example of what integrity in action looks like. I can point to this moment in current history with pride and celebrate that someone with power is standing up for America’s best intentions as codified in the documents written so long ago by the immigrants who founded this great nation. I can illustrate how words have power and that walking our talk saves lives, transforms the present, and encourages a future worthy of us all.
Every time you post, WordPress gives you a congratulatory quote. This was one I received today:
Writing is a struggle against silence. Carlos Fuentes
Silence though is more than a habit at this point. True confession: Even when I write, the silence remains in tact.