21 July 2014

Fly Away Home

I live in a neighbourhood of Doodlehem that is generally considered pretty safe--especially for something on this side of the river, since it's uphill, technically across the county line and its own municipality--but to get home from campus there's no avoiding the student ghetto (because, really, who doesn't love a college town slumlord?) and some very decidedly working-class residential neighbourhoods. I've been warned by my students, bless their hearts, not to walk down certain streets because "they're not safe"--which, in their insular little sometimes-unwittingly-racist minds, simply means "not white." As someone who's lived many years in and around New York City, their mindset makes me batshit crazy. The city residents I encounter daily on my walking commute to campus are friendlier than the average undergrad. Kids have come up to me and wished me happy mother's day even though I don't have kids, guys with dreadlocks have slowed down a half-block so they could share their umbrella with me, and the caretaker of the Latino church on the corner is always looking out for me to ply me with wilted flowers from the scraggly strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb, as long as there's not too much dog shit there that day.

I really like my neighbourhood.

Today I came across a group of three kids on the sidewalk. Their one Razor scooter lay upturned on the concrete. The girl, who was maybe eleven, and the older boy huddled on their haunches around the younger boy--six at most--who was sitting with his palm upturned and tears threatening to brim over. The focus of all three kids was a small red bead of colour in the younger boy's hand. Thinking he had fallen and cut himself, I stopped short of the stop sign and rolled down my window to enquire if they needed help.

I had stumbled upon a ladybug funeral. They had found this tiny red dot of a bug earlier that morning and had decided to keep her as a pet, but in the sad ladybug way things sometimes go, she had not survived. These three--who were of a race and ethnicity I am continually warned against in this town--were reciting ladybug prayers before burying her under a leaf they'd plucked from a neighbour's tree.

They were kids. They aren't in anyone's gang. They aren't shooting rockets at each other across an arbitrary political border bitterly contested for sixty years. They aren't shooting missiles at passenger planes. On this particular day, they aren't even shooting water pistols at each other, though it might not be a bad day for that sort of thing.

Just kids, trying hard to understand why the world is the way it is, and loving something completely unlike them, so much that it hurts.