I first learned of Emily Roberts through Facebook in 2012. Technology had carved a smaller world for me; she and I had three friends in common: my Aunt F, my neighbor Marta, and the wife of one of Husband’s co-workers. None of our mutual friends knew one another—in fact, their worlds were vastly different—and so my curiosity was piqued. I reached out to Emily to introduce myself.
In 2013, Emily bought a darling house and moved into north Minneapolis. Since she was a single woman, I hoped the neighborhood would treat her kindly, but I wouldn’t have to worry; Emily was plucky and not rattled by reports of gunshots or news of break-ins. She tackled home improvement projects, dove into neighborhood events, secured a teaching position in a north Minneapolis school, and seized her new inner-city life with two hands.
One day in November of 2014, in fall’s waning sunlight, Emily left school for the day. Suddenly, a young man appeared and faced her, blocking her path.
“Gimme your stuff.” He edged closer to her. A little too close.
“No. This is my stuff.” Emily frowned. “And you can’t have it!”
Then he pulled a gun from his pants and pointed it at her. “Gimme your purse!”
She flipped through her options. Could she knock the gun from his hand? Or maybe she should yell. But would anyone hear her?
At that moment, the young man snatched her purse and ran. Emily screamed for him to come back, and then by instinct, chased after him. But he darted into an alley, jumped someone’s fence, and disappeared.
Later, Emily detailed the event on a north Minneapolis Facebook page, stating the worst thing about it was the inconvenience; the robbery had stirred up a mess and forced her to replace her credit cards and cell phone. But I could tell she still carried her courage.
In April of 2015, I met another single woman in the neighborhood—artist Susan Spiller—at an event at The Warren, an art gallery in north Minneapolis. Susan’s passion was fused glass art, and at the time, Husband was creating a welded steel sculpture for the arts gala at the girls’ school. He told Susan all about it, asking if she would let him incorporate a piece of her glass into his work. She agreed—delighted with the idea—and days later, formed a square in the dimensions he needed. She waved away his money, though, and said she wished to donate the piece to support the good cause of bringing art into kids’ lives.
Susan wasn’t only an artist. She rescued greyhounds, sat on the board of a neighborhood association, was a member of the Northside Arts Collective, and planted a community garden, which was nestled near her Northside home.
On July 15, 2015, Emily awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of pornography floating through her open windows. The noise seemed close by, and slipping from her bed, she looked out the window. A man—his cell phone in hand—sat in the swing in her yard. When she moved, he ran off.
And on the same night—in another part of north Minneapolis—someone invaded artist Susan Spiller’s home and murdered her.
The next day on Facebook, Emily recounted the story of the pervert in her yard, but she also posted a link to the news story of Susan’s death, which already flooded the city’s news and the north Minneapolis Facebook pages. In the following days, hundreds of mourners gathered outside Susan’s home. No one could make sense of her death. She was good, gentle, and neighbors concluded that since she wasn’t connected with any nefarious behavior, the crime must have been random.
The word plucked at something deep inside me, and for the first time in our thirteen years of living in the neighborhood, I felt anxious. And I wasn’t the only one. Some people announced they were moving. They had given the Northside a chance, but after Susan’s death, they couldn’t do it anymore. And who could blame them? The police often assured us residents that the killing crimes we heard about were not random, but instead targeted acts connected with drugs or gangs. Not this time.
For a few days, I wore a sense of insecurity like a scratchy wool sweater on a ninety-degree day. If this could be the ending of Susan’s life story, what might happen to the rest of us?
Then I forced my thoughts to a different place.
Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things… And the God of peace will be with you.
And I thought of Emily. She didn’t turn from the neighborhood in fear or disgust, but instead spoke loudly into social media, and with the help of neighbors, installed motion sensor lights—and other security measures—in her house and yard. She didn’t cower when leaving her school, and though saddened by Susan’s death, she was undaunted by life in the neighborhood.
Sometimes we muster strength for ourselves by witnessing strength in others. When we’re depleted and wavering—and we think God loves us too quietly—we reach out and grab onto courageous humans, like Emily, who live in the same places we do.
Because we’re stronger that way.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.