Peace in the Neighborhood
Every morning when I leave the house for the first time, I touch my hamsa (the photo is my hamsa) and say a prayer. It’s my only consistent spiritual practice, and actually, it’s two prayers – first, the Prayer for Protection from Unity:
The light of God surrounds us,
The love of God enfolds us,
The power of God protects us.
Wherever we are, God is,
and all is well.
I follow it with the words of a sage, Pops Staples, from one of his songs:
Thank you, God, for another day.
Help my brother along the way,
bring peace to the neighborhood.
I don’t know why I picked those two prayers. The Prayer for Protection ends every church service at Unity. The Pops Staples song was from a CD of Curt’s that he left when he moved out.
That song caught in my memory as a prayer and stayed, especially that last line, which has been much on my mind lately. This week, three people have been shot in the neighborhood. Two did not survive. Only one was someone I knew a little.
I woke one morning to a brief item on the local newspaper website. It said a man had been shot and seriously wounded two blocks from my house.
I took Abbie on our usual walk route, which goes down that block. She smells everything, of course – she’s a dog. At one point I looked down to see her sniffing a puddle of dark red on the sidewalk and my heart squinched up in my chest. I knew – that’s where it happened. Right there, a man’s blood at my feet.
I was at first angry that someone didn’t clean it up, but then I thought, who would? If someone you knew got shot, who could go out and scrub up their blood as if it was just something dirty to be gotten rid of? Who could do that? So there it was.
That morning, the street suddenly seemed like another country, like a place I had never seen before, though I have walked down the block each day for years. The street sounds seemed quieter, but a weird energy flowed by in a rush. I looked and saw knots of neighbors pulled together in groups, whispering, jaws tight.
The next day I walked down the same street again. It’s Abbie’s path, and I didn’t know what else to do. I heard one of the men on that street saying to another, “They decided to stop life support.” I didn’t find out until the next day that the man who was shot – probably by gang members – was the manager of one of the many recovery homes in that area, and he was a man I had said hello to and who had said hello to me and Abbie.
His name was Zack Lee and he was killed in a gang shooting. That’s easy to shrug off – oh, another gang shooting, as if it isn’t real people involved. But from all reports he wasn’t a gang member – he was 43 years old, and was out running an errand for a friend.
I wonder what he was doing, how it went down – did he know those people? Had they had words before? Did he tell them to stop hanging out in his driveway? How quickly was that line crossed, from them noticing him to deciding to take his life?
Now Abbie and I walk by the sidewalk memorial – first there were dozens of candles, and programs from his memorial, and flowers. The flowers faded and were replaced. A framed photo and a note from his mother came and went.
Someone cleaned the blood off the sidewalk, but the candles spilled red wax, so that spot on the sidewalk will always bear a stain. Maybe that’s good, a marker – someone was killed here, someone who was just alive, someone who didn’t have to die. His name was Zack.
Please bring peace to the neighborhood.