The “Realest” Email

This is easily the most real, transparent, and “right up my alley” email that I may have ever received. It comes from a friend who lives in a rough area of Cincinnati and I find myself living out his words on an almost daily basis. Read and process and then let me know your thoughts.

Dear Friends,

I am walking to the grocery store on purpose. It is a bright new day in Walnut Hills, and I want to feel good about this place and its people. Driving would be faster, but the warmth of the sun feels good on my back and I want to smile admiringly at somebody’s child and make them feel good too.

Last night’s thunderstorm has scrubbed the air clean. On my way I pass some corner boys who, if not entirely transformed by the freshness, are at least feeling friendly enough to return my straight-backed nods and greetings. At the bus stop across the street, an old, bent over woman follows me with her eyes until I stop at the light and risk a wave. She waves back. Now I wish Marty was with me.

Up ahead I see the first stroller coming, but it is worse than no good. The young woman pushing it is on the phone, and I judge her completely at 20 yards. Sure enough, she doesn’t lower her voice, so this is what I hear: “…yeah, so I tol’ that mothafuckah’ he better back the fuck off, ‘cuz I ain’ taking no more of his bitch-ass sorry shit…” Her three-year-old must hear it too, but his blank expression gives nothing away as they pass.

In my mind I begin to follow them home, surveying the damage, telling the boy’s future, but then I stop myself. I should judge myself too, but I don’t. The day is still young, and I still want to feel good. I wipe the slate clean and move on.

The grocery store parking lot is usually a minefield of petty hustlers and domestic conflict, so I keep my eyes on the big electric doors until I almost reach them, and suddenly there she is on the sidewalk, maybe six years old and all dressed up for a party, her hair tied back with pink and purple ribbons.

Really, she looks like the little black girl in that Norman Rockwell painting, except this one is standing next to a grocery cart, lovely and serious, looking for her mother, who pulls up in their car a moment later. Then the little girl smiles, and the mother smiles back, and I know in an instant that neither one needs me to make them feel good. Even so, I can’t resist.

“That child is absolutely beautiful,” I say to the mother. “You look like a princess!” I say to the girl in my safe adult voice. The mother thanks me kindly, and if I didn’t know better I would say the little princess curtsies. They get in the car and drive away, and I go inside to buy my milk and eggs, glad to be here. Mission accomplished.

Then, on my way home, a bass-pounding, jacked-up Cadillac full of young men pulls up next to me, spewing misogyny, cigarette smoke, and general menace, and I am at it again, spewing judgment in equal measure. I know it is dangerous to turn and show my contempt, but I am so angry at being robbed of my peace that I do just that. Sure enough, the hoodlums in the car begin talking loudly and gesturing at me, but then the light changes and they drive away, too. In a moment, even their bass is gone.

Back home, in the Bible on our coffee table, Jesus’ brother James says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

A few feet away, in the poetry collection on our bookshelf, William Edward Hickson says, “If at first you don’t succeed / Try, try, try again.”

I have two more blocks to go, before Marty meets me in the kitchen. Please, God, let the sun shine on Walnut Hills a little while longer. And please, God, let me pass another stroller. And please, God, if you can manage it, let the whoever is pushing it be out of minutes.


Bart Campolo


See, I told you!


2 thoughts on “The “Realest” Email

    1. Funny, you say that. A long way to go was my first impression as well, but then the scope of what Bart was doing in that world by bringing a ray of hope, even though a small one, was somehow powerful. Maybe I am a glass half full kind of guy, but I found more good than bad in the story.

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