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Archive for the ‘Franklinton’ Category

The Broken Ones

There are a brother and sister who come regularly to my library. She is a sweetheart who always has an excuse to come up to the desk and talk about something. There is an eager hesitancy to her conversations, anxious that we may not be able to give her time, hopeful that we will. Her brother, from what I’ve seen about the way he interacts with her and the way she talks about him, is a loyal and loving big brother.

The other day, as they passed the desk I saw him limping pretty significantly. With her usual openness, Lucy informed me her brother broke his kneecap. “Ouch, how did that happen?” I wondered.

With all the matter-of-fact, unsensational, unthinking candor of an 8-year-old who has lived with more than any child should she responded:

“My uncle was beating on him, and he didn’t realize he was really hurting him, so he just kept hitting him…”

My heart broke. As it does every time I see or hear a glimpse of the kinds of lives so many of these kids experience every day.  It is so, so common. The violence, the fear, the uncertainty.  What hurts most is that it is not even questioned. To Lucy, this is life.  To Rianna, when she explained that she wasn’t going to school because her mom made them move out after the cops came to the house, that is life. To Kaylee, who can’t return that dvd because her half-sister has it and her mom won’t let her talk to them anymore, that’s life. When I try to get to the bottom of the situations these kids are in, it’s murky and confusing even in their own minds. How can it make sense? The only frame of reference in their lives is instability. Nothing is secure or safe. But that’s life.

I told Lucy that if she was being hurt at home, that is not okay. It isn’t normal. It doesn’t have to be that way, and it shouldn’t. She stared at me, and this girl who doesn’t easily show emotion gave me a look I will never forget. As if I was speaking a language that seemed to make sense, that she had suspected existed, but was a little afraid to believe in. And when I gave her the number for the Child Abuse Hotline and explained what it was, she made a jerky, awkward motion toward me, an almost hug, pulled back at the last moment. And I embraced her, and whispered to her that I didn’t want her to get hurt, and my heart broke. Again.

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Two days ago a man was shot a few blocks from us, right in front of one of my friends and her two-year-old. Later that night, the neighbor of my friends at West Park had a heart attack and died. Yesterday morning, while working out in the park with my YMCA class, I saw a dead body floating in the river. And last night, the tension on West Park erupted, with 13-year-olds holding guns and rival groups marching down the street. The police had to intervene between the warring factions surrounding my friends’ house.

Death and chaos are all around me. The image of the man face down in the water has been flashing in my mind for the past 2 days. His name was Gary. I just found that out.

People don’t know how to respond to death. Most of the others in my class made inane remarks about CSI: Columbus. One girl said, “I feel so bad for the little ducks!”

I have been mourning Gary. And I have discovered something. My response to suffering in the past has always been to respond, to react, to focus on what can be done to stop it. My gut has always urged me toward the disaster. I can remember as a child, seeing strangers in need, beggars on the streets, a quechua woman attacked by a dog… I always wanted to go to them, to somehow make the sadness go away. Even when I had no idea what to do, I still brought the woman home, asking my mom to fix her leg and sew her dress where the dog had torn it.

Perhaps it was the finality of seeing someone so far beyond any help. But all I want to do is curl up inside my house with my kids and shelter them from the world. Becoming a wife and becoming a mother, having these 3 people in my life who I love so deeply, so completely, has brought my gaze closer, reigned it in to this small circle around me.

But I do still long to join the action, the crusade, to make a difference. I hear from Kelly on West Park how they gathered in the 11 kids next door on the night their neighbor died. How they reached out, instinctively, before even understanding what had happened, when they heard the mother screaming in the street. What my friends in that house have done for those kids, not just in this one horrific moment of tragedy, but every day, is immeasurable. They have given them glimpses of a different way of life. Brought them to festivals and introduced them to music. Taught them to feed the chickens and find the right plants in the garden. In the midst of a warring neighborhood, the West Park House is a beacon. Because the tragedy is not just momentary. It is everyday in Franklinton. And every day, Kelly and Ashley and J. Meier and Jonny and Jonathan Youngman and Greg are there.

And while I yearn for that opportunity, I long to reach out like that, I find myself turning back to the 2 little lives that I have more power to influence than any others. At the end of the day, when I get home from work and there is maybe 1 1/2 hrs left before their bedtime, I want to spend it right there, with picture books and playdough and hide-and-seek.

How do I live out completely who I am? How can I be crusader and nurturer? How can I nurture my own in this place of chaos without also crusading for others? I am in search of a way to live this out…

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The Other Cheek

2 weeks ago we got home from grocery shopping to find the back door kicked in and our iMac (among other things) gone.

Needless to say, it hasn’t been easy.  Most of our filmwork was on the hard drives they left behind, but some did get lost. And our photos. All our personal photos and family videos… Thanks to this blog and Picasa, we do have a good stash left, but there are so, so many pictures I will never be able to look at again. Including the photos from my son’s 2nd birthday party, which were on the little digital camera.

The irony of this is that it has stalled our work on the film portraying the Lynds, tireless adovacates for prisoner rights.  I thought of this yesterday, after a full day of filming the Lynds, of hearing their unending struggle for justice in the prison system. I wondered about the two men who invaded our space, who took our things. I imagined them in prison, and I didn’t want it. I truly didn’t.

I think of our friend, Jonathan M.  When something similar happen to another friend in the neighborhood, he knew who had done it. He knew where they lived. And Jonathan M. walked up to their door and offered them paid work.

When Pastor Tim in Vancouver, after countless hours, days, months of working on his dissertation, had his laptop taken, disseration and all, he searched endlessly for the culprit, not to have him arrested, but to give him the power cord that had been left behind.

This is a different path. This is the way I want to live.

I hope to find them. And I hope I would have the courage to offer them the keyboard and mouse sitting on an empty desk. And maybe some yardwork.

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At one of my first training days at the library, someone told us a story about a man who needed some help filling out a job application on the computer.  The staff member helped him find the application he needed, then moved on to another customer. When he came back, the man had filled in the application on the screen with a Sharpie marker.

Most everyone in the room laughed, as if it were simply a funny, instructional customer service anecdote.  I didn’t. I couldn’t. I felt my chest constrict. All I could think about was this man who’d been in manufacturing for his entire life, who knew his business, and was respected for it, now reduced to this. Bumbling around on a machine that he never thought he would need to understand. Watching kids, teens, punks tapping keys, hitting buttons, weaving a mysterious brand of magic that means nothing to him…

Today, a beautiful elderly couple came in. They asked for information on filing for unemployment. He was laid off last Friday, after 30 years of work with the same company.  She was outgoing and articulate, the kind of person who gets things done. He was quiet and deferential, someone you instantly feel at home with. They both were intelligent, sociable, and not about to let this get them down.  After a bit of a tech battle, they filed their online application.  These noble folks obviously are far beyond many others in terms of capability to deal with life.

But still… my heart ached. This should not be happening. This is not right. So many people are drowning in the same sea right now, all clinging to splinters of life rafts, all struggling to stay afloat.  I think of this, as I sit here, in my comfortable job that I love, as I think of my children, and how I cannot be there to tuck them in tonight.

But I have it good. So good.

Update 3/21/11: This same couple came into the library last week and made a point to come and let me know that he was offered his old job back!!!! I could have cried I was so happy for them.

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but my camera isn’t.  Sad. Very sad. In fact, I would venture to say tragic…

But that’s not why I haven’t been posting. I am apparently extremely bad at keeping up with this blog when I am off on a film shoot.  Especially when it’s in the fabulous city of Vancouver.  With the whole family. And a long list of friends to see. And many late nights to sip wine on porches. And a whole slew of favorite restaurants to revisit. And lots of strawberries to pick. She’s happier than she looks, I promise. (Thanks, Sara, for the picture! And Marty for saving Lala some berries to pick!)

We returned this morning from 11 days of soaking in the goodness of the place we used to call home. A lot has happened since September. Yet, as is usually the case, our old haunts seemed strangely unchanged and expectant, embracing us as calmly and carelessly as if we had never left.  The same loyal patrons frequent Continental Coffee, car-free days on the Drive are as bustling as ever, and the rain continues its incessant intrusion into our daily tasks. Yet in the garden grows a new crop, and in our friends’ arms new little lives coos and giggle. Much has happened.

If you ask me how I’m doing, or how things have been, I’m not one to smile and nod and give you pat answers (like the lamentably popular “fine”). So for the last week and a half, I found myself saying to countless friends and acquaintances, “It’s been hard.”   And it has. It’s been an extremely rough year. Moving, the endless job search, the loan process, the loan denial, the economic uncertainty, the un-rootedness, and through it all Matthew’s constant battles against anxiety and depression.

I’ll admit we harbored some fears about our visit to the Pacific Northwest. We worried that the contrast between what we had there and what we are now living in would be too great for us. We would break down. We would regret.

But we didn’t. It was painful and bittersweet, but certainly not unsupportable. I realized on this trip that when our loan fell through and we decided this rented space, small though it was, had to be our home, we actually managed to do it. We had to take it and claim it, make it ours. And we have. While we were away from here, I felt myself longing for our little nook in this world, our wooden fence with the swinging gate that the kids are slowly destroying, the inviting porch with it’s comfy, worn chair and pinecone windchime, the cool and welcoming living room with the glaringly fake brick wall, the kids room lined with an odd assortment of toy bins and boxes and the closet with the sliding doors that has the capacity for endless transformations (elevator, spaceship, restaurant, etc)…

My friend Lianne picked us up at the airport, and I didn’t think about it until I saw her but it was so good to have someone I loved waiting for us. We were loved there, and we are loved here, from the first day we arrived way back in September.  It was good to be there, in beautiful Vancouver. It is good to be back in Columbus.

There is much to be said about the society we live in, the fragmentation caused by access to easy transit, the dispersal of families and communities through globalization… I don’t wish to delve into all that, at least not now. Suffice it to say that it is hard and it does hurt, but there is richness to this life. And in spite of wanting a rootedness of place for our children as they grow older, I am grateful, so grateful that we have these beautiful, diverse places that we can call home.

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They stand in the middle of my street, their teenage voices volleying accusations and insults back and forth. Behind the two girls, an awkward posse in varying degrees of adolescence watch, eyes gleaming with anticipation. From our porch my two-year-old stares, mouth hanging open, while I debate what to do. Teenagers begin appearing in the street, out of whatever dark recesses teenagers lurk, and surround the screaming pair, smiling with eager, parted lips.

I call my daughter over.

“Sweetie, those girls are angry.  What do we do when we feel angry?”

She is making a noble effort to meet my eyes, but the time-tested lure of violence is beckoning loudly for her attention.

“Do we yell when we are angry?”

“No,” she says without hesitation, then turns back to the growing crowd.

At precisely that moment, in a blur of metallic tshirts, failing arms, flying hair, and injured egos, the two hit the pavement.

After whisking both my children inside, I have a moment to consider this encounter, mild as it has been, with the world of violence. There are those who would question raising small children in a neighborhood where violence is a common occurrence. We were well aware of Franklinton’s reputation when we choose to make it our home. This will certainly not be the last time my daughter observes poor anger management. In fact (my spine shivers as I think it) in 13 years those could be her friends out there, writhing like animals on the asphalt.

Then again, in 13 years, perhaps there will be one onlooker who will speak up. Someone to stand between them. Someone to reject the common way. In a moment of presumptuous reverie, I picture my daughter, the Ghandi of Franklinton… Yes, she will change the world!

The street is quiet now, though as I venture onto the porch I realize it is not empty. The mass of troubled hormones did not leave of their own volition.

My elderly neighbor, tough as they come, stands before her house, hands on her hips. Across from her, the women who live in the cherry blossom house loudly direct warnings at the fleeing backs. Another neighbor stands with phone in hand, awaiting the cop car. “They don’t even live here,” she growls, “and they think they can come make trouble on our street!”

And I realize something. If my daughter is going to learn to stand against violence, to reject the base solutions to our problems, it may be from the picture books about Ghandi that I read to her, and little chats we have about our feelings, but in this instance, this day, I was a poor example to follow.

Today, the guardian angels of our street are these women that I am lucky enough to make my home beside.

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