Late in the day, when the sky is fading into shades of pink like pulled taffy, I sit on the porch and let my feet dangle from the swing. The kids come and go and from my seat on the sidelines, I can watch both the street and the boys across the way.
I don’t know what makes them tick, those boys across the way, but I’m compelled to watch them, study them, go to school on their smallish man frames and thick rows of hair and hard faces.
Why can’t they just play nice? Or at least pretend to be nice?
I move down onto the steps to be closer to the action and I think of Oprah and Jay-Z and how they paid a visit to his hometown and sat on his stoop. I smile because I don’t know why my brain chose to tuck away that interview clip, but it did and so I lean into the memory, letting my thoughts go where they will.
“Just sitting on the stoop,” Oprah had said. “Sitting on the stoop with Jay-Z.”
“It’s what you do,” he’d answered her. “Just chillin’.”
And I remember the way they laughed together.
Like they were sharing a secret that only part of the world could ever understand.
I lean down onto my knees, resting my chin in my palms, and I watch the cherry blossoms blow through the air. The air is thin and chilled and the kids kick the ball, unaware of the hours ticking by. Their laughter and bickering is like music.
The boys across the street are no longer across the street. They stand in the middle of the street, staring at me, studying my movements, my hair, my white girl clothes. They go to school on me and my kids and our white folks’ porch.
Why can’t she let us be? Why she gotta be up in our business all the time? Don’t she know we gotta do what we gotta do to make it out here?
We make eye contact and one of them gestures at me. The others laugh, a string of curse words cutting through the thin night air, and the chasm between us and them widens ever so slightly more.
And I’m aware that we both know things that we could share with the other.
I stand my ground, there on my stoop, and they pop wheelies on the sidewalk just a few feet from me. I know they want something from me and for a minute I want to give them what I gave them just 16 days ago:
A crazy lady hollering and condemning and trying to conjure up some shred of fear or shame or remorse or spark of life,
A wild, unrestrained woman hell bent on forcing an apology and manufacturing a broken and contrite spirit,
A woman bowed up, full of supposed personal rights and community responsibility and you will not treat my kids like that! mothering.
I want to give them all that again because it’s much easier to bow up than bow low.
And I’m good at bowing up.
I stand and stretch my legs before I climb down the stairs.
Sweat beads around their hairlines and their skin is coffee colored like the color of the sky now and the children in the yard have grown quiet.
I walk the stretch of sidewalk along where the boys test the waters and I speak.
“Hey boys,” I say. “Cool bikes.”
They stare, not saying a word, but I don’t care.
I’ve just bent ever so slightly low.
And tomorrow I’ll bend a tad bit more.
No daylight to separate us.
Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.
Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart
If this is my place and these are my people, then I must do my part in becoming a student of both. I have to bend low and enter into this life here with a heart pliable enough for God to shape and a mind open enough to learn a different way of living, of thinking, of seeing. In the last 40 days, I’ve made a commitment to become a student on poverty, white privilege, racism, and the Church. If you’ve read something you think I should read, please let me know.
And if you’re interested in joining me in this journey, can I recommend beginning with Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle? My friend Becca, my go-to person on all things ‘hood related, recommended it to me over a year ago and 16 days ago after I went crazy on the gang of boys who run my streets, I thought maybe I should read it, like yesterday. I devoured that book in 3 days and the Man is reading it now. It’s a game changer and a heart breaker. Rough, hard to read language, but a must read.
Let me know if you buy it. If enough of us read it together, I may want to open an online FB group for discussion.