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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Elul 26 - by Debra Baker

You played a game of peek-a-boo with my teenage son last night.  You caught his eyes through the glass door that leads from our rotting deck inside to our kitchen.   Maybe you also saw the avocado sitting on the counter and the jigsaw puzzle with only the frame assembled, nothing inside. 

There was a blender half-filled with iced coffee sitting in the kitchen, which perhaps I should have shared with you.  We could have sat together chatting about the meeting that I attended with my friend on Thursday, the one held in an airless room, the one where we prayed for serenity and listened to some guy named Ron unload his cargo of loss.  

I told the dispatcher how my boy had spotted you standing there, how you had pulled him away from the thirteenth inning of the baseball game on TV.  No, he did not know what you were wearing.  Yes, he thought maybe you were twenty years old.  Yes, you were black.  Yes, male.  

Eleven miles away last night, police lassoed a black male my son’s age, a teenager with a gun in his hand, all part of this pandemic of decay.  

You climbed up our five stairs, past the swinging green hammock chair and the empty box of Life cereal that had not quite made it into the recycling bin.   You slammed your palm into our glass, knocking a hollow knock, suffocating the two of us with the sound.   

The dog sat silently on the sofa.  To him, the world is not a carnivorous battleground.  To him, there are no prowlers, just pilgrims. He would have rested his head on your lap, kissed your palms, invited you to rub his gray belly. 

You ran.  You collapsed onto the driveway next door, wheezing with asthma, this marathon sprinting foreign to your weak lungs.  Four cops reported that you’d fled from a sobriety checkpoint miles away down on Olive Boulevard.  They huddled with a collection of quiet neighbors who plant daffodils and loan each other sticks of butter, sharing this small-town news. 

Maybe you called your mom from inside the county jail early this morning and heard her crumble into the oak rocking chair in the corner.  Maybe you felt her clutching the wicker basket laden with soft prayers. 

During the Tikkun Middot experience this past year, I repeated the following words in my head.  “Even though you have wronged me/hurt me/frightened me/done that which I fail to understand, I will not withhold my goodness from you.”   This reminds me that I get to choose my response to challenging moments in my home, with my colleagues and students, and out in the wider world.  This reminds me to listen with an open heart to the cries of individuals and of communities, even when I do not know their pain.   This reminds me to chip away at the us-them mentality that plagues our city, our country, and our world, not to shove people into categories, to embrace our common humanity.

I can choose to respond with goodness.  We all can.   May we continue to train ourselves in this new year. 

Debra Baker

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