Published on June 2nd, 2021 | by Candace Simpson0
On my Block: A Live-Thread Walk Through My Neighborhood
Coronavirus (and our poor national response to it) has disrupted everything. Because I am naturally a worrier, I began a self-initiated “shelter in place” in the second week of March, 2020. On March 11, I started resisting invitations to dinner and “catching-up”—more than usual. March 15 was my last big social gathering. Church, of course. And since then, I’ve limited most interaction outside of my house.
Groceries and medicine come to me; yoga happens in my living room; work takes place in my own little corner, in my own little chair. It has been an elaborate so many months of “Stoop Kid’s Afraid To Leave Her Stoop.” On some level, I’ve been nervous about leaving my house because I’ve imagined germs just floating everywhere. I know we’ve been joking about ‘Rona, but on some real? This season is not enjoyable for people with anxieties and nervous fixations. We are not okay.
But, on a challenge from a friend, I went for a walk. It was strange because I haven’t left my house in so long for any real purpose. When I stepped outside, I realized that the world was both still and spinning. Being inside for months will make you see things in a whole new way, so I decided to make a live-thread of all that I encountered.
The neighborhood busybody (who helps everyone install ACs and alerts everyone if a car is being towed) is hanging by the dollar store. His mask barely covers his scruffy beard. He usually crosses the street to hug me, but given the circumstances, he yells from across the street, “GOOD TO SEE YOU BABY! HOW YOU DOING? Y’ALL GOOD?”
There’s a woodpecker down the block. Everyone is gathering to see what a woodpecker actually looks like. We only know what it sounds like.
This street never looks like this. All this trash in the gutter.
I make it to the bigger dollar store. They’re selling Lysol spray for $14.99. ABSOLUTELY not. No ma’am.
A woman with an unmistakable Jamaican accent starts cussing out the owner, “You should be shame! People are dying, and you want these people to pay $15 for a spray. How do you sleep at night?”
The owner starts cussing back, “It costs money to ship this. You want me to go out of business?”
I dip from that store because tensions were rising, AND hot breath was moving too much for me. I just came for some paper towels.
I see a woman from my church. I wave at her, but she doesn’t recognize me under the mask. So, I just stand there for 30 seconds waving like a 6’ toddler, hoping she’ll recognize at least my body shape.
I leave the busy part of the neighborhood, and now I’m on the residential side. I see balloons attached to fences with the faces of children and teens who’ve graduated. What a creative way to honor a graduate. I wonder what they’ll think of this moment years from now. I hope the coronavirus era is just a blip. Are we ever going back to normal?
A panic attack in the street. The trigger? “What if this is the beginning of the end?”
Girl, if you don’t put your Fisk Jubilee Singers playlist on and breathe.
Jesus, I am embarrassed. Good thing nobody is outside to see me. Cuz YIKES.
WOW. Did this bodega close for good, or is it just for a time? God, they had the best strawberry-banana smoothies. Damn.
Now this street used to have two competing Dominican hair salons, and one of them had a barber shop attached to it. I wonder where everybody is. It always used to smell like hot hair and conditioner over here.
I make it to the park. I am judging everyone. Why are you touching things? Why are y’all so close? Y’all better be from the same household. Oh my God, time to go.
Someone in medical scrubs walks past. My heart dips. What will this person witness today?
I realize I have been aimlessly walking about. This is not useful or helpful to my spirit. I recall that some of my friends were using walking meditations from Girl Trek. I pull up one of my favorite speeches from Angela Davis. She says, “If you are a Black person who lives in the Black community all your life and walk out on the street every day seeing white policemen surrounding you…when you live under a situation like that constantly, and then you ask me whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Perhaps by design of the Universe, at this point I’m standing right in front of the precinct. I am shook. Am I in an episode of The Twilight Zone? Is someone narrating my life? Is Rod Serling or Jordan Peele gonna come out in a suit and give a brief monologue about the absurdity of it all?
I start intentionally looking at construction sites and apartment buildings. I pray over them, hoping that every Black and Brown person who lives inside would be able to stay.
I pass one of my new favorite restaurants, Cheri’s Bed Stuy. I stand outside smiling at the door, remembering all the fond moments I’d had inside. One time I was on a date, and I happened to run into an old friend who said she’d moved down the block. We were supposed to catch up.
We never did.
Aw hell, am I ever going to be able to meet up with my people again?! I bet I won’t ever say “let’s catch up” without making a concrete plan ever again!
An internal pep talk: Sis, focus. You are on this walk to see what your neighborhood looks like. Chill OUT.
I walk past a school playground. I imagine all the little feet that might have run up and down the width of the court. I close my eyes and can hear the rhymes and jump rope songs. I pray an intentional prayer for all the children who would have been here on this nice day and are instead inside.
An internal monologue: We done spent all this time telling kids to get off those devices, and now all any of us can do is be on the devices. Help us, Holy Ghost.
I see a bush of flowers. They’re so amazingly beautiful. I realize I haven’t seen flowers up close in weeks. I mean, I’ve seen flowers in a bouquet, but I haven’t seen them in their natural habitat. Something about seeing these flowers, in concrete but also somehow in dirt, touches me. Life adapts. This flower bush is a City Bush. That’s a Brooklyn Bush. This is a bush that has seen and heard Brooklyn and, if it could talk, it would probably sound like a mix of Susan Kelechi Watson and my first-grade teacher, Ms. Jackson.
So, I see God is just going to troll me with nature, huh? I see a tree stump. A stump is a reminder of what was. Of course, a tree used to be here. It is no longer here. Sort of? I also see a series of shoots growing upwards. The tree isn’t dead all the way, as it looks to me. Life is still happening on the stump. It just looks different.
A few tears fall down my face because I needed the reminder. All is not lost. Things look different. Life must adapt. Or, as my favorite writer Octavia Butler reminds me, “God is Change.”
Eventually, I make it back to my apartment. I am a little thrown. How could so much be happening right outside my house without me knowing? What else has been happening since I’ve been inside?
I don’t know when I’ll go outside again. This was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but I did learn that the world is changing. People are being forced out. Small businesses and community organizations are being forced to close. And our sacred rituals of stopping for a kiss and a hug feel light years away.
I’m not sure why this was the episode of Earth I had to be on, but I pray next season has a better storyline.
May it be so.
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com.