My wife, Marty hands me a
phone and the 911 operator keeps asking how many, what color, how old,
how many shots, until I hiss at her to hurry up and send a car because
they're still out there, calling back and forth to each other, pointing
at the apartments on the other side of our back fence. They move into
the side yard, where they regroup for a moment, and then they walk out
our gate and down our front steps, cross the sidewalk past three women
they seem to know, and get into a gray, late-model sedan parked behind
our minivan, where my daughter was supposed to have parked. God, don't let
her come home now, I think, as I keep narrating to the 911 lady, both
of us knowing the information doesn't really matter. The police always come too
late. Sure enough, the gray car slowly pulls away, coming to a
maddeningly full and legal stop before turning the corner and blending
back into the city night. The three
women’s loud voices trail off in the other direction. It is quiet
again. I am not afraid anymore. I am furious.
Those lousy ghetto bastards—my exact words at 2 a.m.—brought their ignorant violence into our
yard on purpose. They weren't running away from anything. They had a
plan. They brought an audience. I don't know their names, of course,
but I know them just the same, because once they get that careless,
they are all the same. Before I can stop myself, I hope aloud that they
drive themselves off a bridge before they make any more babies. Across
the room, Marty wonders aloud what happened to the kind and hopeful man
who brought her to this place four years
ago, in the name of Love. Finally, we turn on the light and call our daughter. Until she gets home, there is no use trying to sleep.
Hours later, everyone else is
safe in bed, but I am in the bathroom, sitting, thinking, wishing I
could pray. Beside the tub, Marty has left a book of poems. Reading
them, I gradually forget who and where I am. And then I find this:
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn,
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
To buy me, and snaps the purse shut,
when death comes
like the measle-pox
When death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
And I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
And each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don't want to wonder
And suddenly, just as suddenly as those gunshots awakened me, I too don’t want to end up simply having visited this world, or even this neighborhood. I don’t want to end up angry or bitter. No, I
want to believe in my heart that each life, and each name, and each
body is indeed something precious, both to God and to me. I want to
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
I sit alone for a long time, silently thankful for Mary Oliver,
the poet, and for Marty Campolo, my conscience in many ways, and for
Grace herself, who gives us all our second chances, and then I go back
to bed. Tomorrow is Monday, and we in the fellowship will be eating our supper together.
I wrote this
up the day after it happened, early in the summer. Honestly, two days
after that, life on Hemlock Street went back to normal, which is to
say, life for us and our friends here went back to being pretty
terrific. We might be more fearful if such thugs came that close again,
or if they were aiming at us, but they haven’t, and they aren’t, so
we’re not. If you really want to scare us these days, forget bullets
and focus on that force of evil which truly threatens to destroy the
good life we share here in Walnut Hills: Bedbugs. Think I’m kidding?
Read next month’s letter.