In my tiny hometown, some people wedged air conditioners in the open windows of their homes in the summertime. As a kid, I saw those units as a sign of wealth, along with carpeting and wall murals. But in our little rambler, we only had fans. And I sang into those cooling machines and laughed at the quavering effect on my voice. They made me smile too on muggy Minnesota nights when I dreamed to the sound of those blades, beating behind bars.
If I snoozed away my teenage summer mornings, the sound of distant lawn mowers jostled me awake, reminding me of my chore. I had to cut our grass too before the afternoon, because my sisters and I had the grueling task of sunbathing—back when frying oneself in baby oil was a good idea. After my lawn mowing, we wriggled into our swimsuits, looped beach towels around our necks, grabbed the boom box, and sneaked out to the back yard where we committed our act of luxury. But the slam of a car door—that was Dad coming home for lunch. And we couldn’t let him see us being lazy in the back yard or we’d get more jobs added to our lists. Greasy and giggling, we scrambled back inside for cover.
Some evenings back then—if the mosquitoes weren’t too ferocious—we sat on our front steps, sipping limeade. Our view was a gravel road, and beyond it, a field that stretched out forever—or at least as far as the place where sky kisses soil. Crickets chirped the soundtrack for those evenings, and fireflies igniged the ditches.
A decade and a half later, I traded the bucolic sounds of my youth for the jagged noise of inner-city living. Street fights in the night replaced the sound of purring fans, sirens trumped the buzzing of lawn mowers, and booming music choked out the crickets’ songs. But the commotion outside soothed my city babies to sleep. And Husband and I heard the pops of fireworks—or gunshots?—somewhere close, and the sounds lulled us to sleep too.
One Saturday night not long ago, I drove home from an event. As usual, I turned the car west at the exit and onto Dowling Avenue North. But what was up ahead? Inactivity on the streets snapped me to attention. I straightened my posture and glanced at the digital clock on the car’s dash. Midnight. I narrowed my eyes. The area was naked of violence and flashing lights. Why? I rolled down the driver’s side window to listen. Only the distant hum of freeway traffic floated into the car. As I drove deeper into north Minneapolis, I swiveled my head to scan each intersecting street. Something was awry.
Where were the police cars? And the sirens? Where was the normal activity—as common as jam on toast—of officers making arrests? Where was the yelling I had come to expect? Or the screeching tires that told me I was almost home?
That night in bed, I stared into the darkness. Like the whirring fans of my childhood, the clatter of unrest in our part of the city had become my white noise. I remembered two earlier conversations.
“A police car just went by,” an out-of-town guest had said, rushing to our living room window. “And it had its lights on.”
“Oh?” I shook my head. “I didn’t notice.”
On another occasion, a neighbor said, "That's the third time this week police helicopters have circled over our houses."
I shrugged. “I guess I didn’t hear them.”
Turmoil had become commonplace; dissension, humdrum. My senses had dulled, turning my gaze inward and blurring my motivation to serve the neighborhood. And one peaceful night on the streets felt wrong to me.
The next day, I let the dog out into the back yard. She sniffed the air, and I followed her outside to survey my garden. The usual sounds swirled around me: squeals from nearby tires, the bang of a dropping garbage can lid in the alley, and faraway sirens screaming toward crisis.
I breathed out a prayer for a fresh outlook, a renewed perspective—for ears to hear once more.
The bells from the church on the corner—louder than the neighborhood now—pealed out an old hymn, and I perched on a garden stool to listen. Memories of the song's lyrics wafted to me on spring winds, nudging me out of complacency and back to my purpose.
Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife,
And preach thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life:
Faith of our fathers, holy faith,
We will be true to thee till death.
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*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.