Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Staying Part

Three years ago, we were still hanging pictures on our walls and unpacking boxes. Calvin and Ruby had just started at their new school and our hearts were wide open. The scary part was over. We had done a hard thing. We had listened. We had obeyed in the face of doubt.

We had no clear ideas about what to do next.
We didn't know we were just here to live and be normal humans, and we didn't have a clue how difficult that would be at times. We didn't know how much easier it is to help someone than to invest over time and grow to love them.

Our early jitters were swept away. The unknown quickly unraveled into something we were made for. We were simply home.

Please hear me when I say this: Just because something is unfamiliar doesn't mean it's not exactly what you were made for.

Our streets have been so quiet lately. Neighbors come and they go. This community of transience has surprised me and stressed me out. For us, the hard part was getting here. For many others, the hardest part is staying. That's something I knew nothing about, four or five years ago. I didn't realize how much work it is to be poor. I wasn't aware of lives being lived as sparring matches on a chess board. It's calculated and orchestrated, everything hinging on a single move. Stability is short-term and upheaval imminent. Reacting swiftly is among the most prized skills of the streets.

Mixed into the comings and goings was a woman. I met her early and thought she might be the reason we we came. The reason. It was more than enough, and she made my life better all the time. We spent hours together and the ways our lives intertwined made her burst out sobbing more than once. She was a miracle. I was inspired by her resilience and the way she parented her teenagers with stubborn love and vigilance. She became my friend. My sister.

She was the last person I expected to leave.
I see her kids now, from far away and up close, and I don't have any answers for them.

I worry for them, and for all the boys across this city with lives so rattled that stability is their great unknown, setting fear into their bones like an fever.

They react swiftly, and sometimes with force. There is no justice for these boys, born of hustle and grit, made too early into men inside homes shaped by lack.

There is justice for me, and for you. You know that, right? We stand protected by a margin for error we'll never even test. They react against a world hellbent on hating them, and it only takes one time.

If you don't think it's true, visit your county jail. Learn about your local juvenile justice system and take a hard look at the kids inside. Better yet, move into a neighborhood where you watch fifth graders with Coke-bottle glasses grow into high-schoolers that scrap one time at the park and pay for it with their entire future.

"What it comes down to, then, is the idea that the very same situations and behaviors are treated completely differently depending on how nice your stuff is. Kid gets into a fight at school? If he's black and poor, he's going to jail. If he's rich and white, he's going to military school. Was your daughter busted with drugs? If she's poor, she's getting charged. If she's rich, she'll go to a nice rehab facility for however long proprietary demands. The only reason it looks like our kids misbehave more is that we can't afford to cover up for them when they do." - Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado

I never, ever cared about any of this before I moved to the city. I never read those books. It doesn't mean moving is necessary in order to care, just that it was for me. Sometimes I miss the nights where we sat on the porch and only thought about ourselves. I never broke my own heart.

My life is delineated by two places - the farm, and this city. For better or worse, my reality has lined up in two tidy columns, and I'm sure it's a little confusing. My actual living isn't so different here than it was "before". I have more neighbors, I take more walks, I see more shabbiness. But I'm still me and I love this city like I loved that land. I still enjoy the same things. I look mostly the same, but with a few gray hairs. Many of my friends are the same, and many are new. My day-to-day operations aren't vastly different.

So, why the two columns?

It's because my heart- and head-space are occupied by dramatically different things. I don't live on a block riddled by gang violence. Crime and defeat stay mostly hidden in the shadows here. But I have seen enough to realize an entire underworld I never knew before, and it rolls around inside me like a marble in a can. My worldview is being shaped as I open up my life up to a different (not worse) kind of living.

I'm acutely aware that my opinions are becoming increasingly unpopular. I know, I know. I've become that person. And I won't apologize.

God tells us over and over, "I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away." (Zephaniah 3:19) His heart beats for the fugitive kids and their tired-out, spent-up moms and dads, the ones we're quick to ignore or chase away.

When we allow our lives to intersect with souls wearing the sharp edge of pain, we cannot expect to walk away unmarked. I can't do a single thing for daughters abandoned by their Moms, or sons expected to fail. I can't help them at all.

But I feel myself rising up for them, and I don't know where it will go from here.

Three years and counting have taught me this: going might be hard, but it's the staying that will break you.

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