By Ty H. Phillips
The leaves are green and the clouds are grey.
The colors of spring seem more vibrant against the dark Cleveland skies. Even with the drizzle, the ghetto streets are filled with screams, shady deals and little boys dressed as girls trying to turn a trick. They run up to cars that slow down and offer a service. The cars in the know make their exchange, those that are surprised by the gender swap upon close inspection start yelling and drive away in a tire squealing huff. Sometimes I laugh.
Second story windows the in low-rise apartments stay open just a few inches and people walk up handing money into them and run away when their goods, wrapped in a small white paper bundle, come out. I grab the binoculars and look closer and see a small child on the lap of the person in the window. Shaking my head, I put the binoculars back on the window sill.
Before long, a low rider comes off of Detroit and onto 80th. The radio is blasting and can be heard six floors up and I shut the window some as the residents probably won’t enjoy, “aint no thang killin a nigga, aint no bitch I’m a fuckin killa” blaring into their living space. People rush from waiting doorways toward the car and just as soon as it arrived, it is gone and the people fade back into the shadows of Section 8 housing.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Three loud bursts go off and the street is dead silent.
I look out and see that the windows have all closed and just like ghosts in fog, the people have all disappeared. It takes only a few seconds for everyone to realize it was firecrackers and not gun fire and things resume to the way they were. The second story windows open, the trans hookers are back on the corner and the children are throwing stones bottles.
I notice that my mala is in my hand and I look down and wonder if it’s doing me or anyone else any good.
There is no great miraculous change that is going to take place, I know this. I know that my practice may impact a few who are close, but will most likely never impact those on the street. I think of the Razor Wire Dharma project and think how great it would be to engage some brothers to bring the dharma and mindfulness to this area of the city.
As I am pondering all of this, knowing I am already stretched thin, a fight breaks out.
People are screaming and fists are flying as three people gang up on one. People come running out of the buildings and it turns into six on two. Small children stand feet away watching; a mother with a stroller stops to scream, “fuck that bitch ass up!” She walks away from the infant to spit on the two who are struggling to survive the onslaught.
The two break free and start to run. The screams grow louder and a child in the way gets knocked over. He hits the pavement hard, probably slamming his head into the concrete, and I hear his cry break over the yells of the chaos. It goes unheard. He lays there crying as parents chase each other through the streets.
A few minutes go by and the parent or whomever comes back and roughly grabs the child and says, “Get your ass up and stop crying!” Her voice is loud enough to carry up to my window. I shake my head and tear up for the child. Her concern for hurting someone outweighs her concern for a hurt and scared child that she bore.
I feel the knots in my stomach tighten as I sit back and despair. I look down at my mala again and wonder if anything we do matters.
In an attempt to calm myself, I start to chant silently and feel the shape of each bead press between my middle knuckle and my thumb. My phone chirps and a friend texts me, “Do you think we could start an inner city dharma group?” I laugh and start to reply.
Editor: Dana Gornall