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.
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.
See, I told you!