As I walked across Horatio Street to the gym a little girl approached me and asked for help.
“I’m lost,” she said.
I looked around to make sure she wasn’t trying to lure me into an alley where a big scary guy would mug me but she was alone.
“My mother gave me five dollars to go to the store and buy milk but there was a man who chased me and I ran down the subway to get away from him and I came up here. Would you take me to the Police Station? And I’m hungry.”
I asked where she lived and she didn’t know that or her phone number but she did know that if she got to a police station they would take care of her. She was seven.
Never sorry for an excuse to skip the gym I took her to a deli and asked where the police station was. So far I hadn’t needed to know. I bought her a healthy snack of a banana and a pint of milk.
We chatted as we walked to the 6th precinct. Her name was Leonora Reyes. She carried a large paper bag that contained a coloring book, a bunch of scallions and a yogurt. Where did she get that? She was a little vague. Had she spent all her mother’s money?
At the police station the officers took her name and put it out on the wires but no one had reported her missing. That worried me and I wondered if I was now responsible for her—should I adopt her? Become her foster mother? Why hadn’t anyone missed her?
The officers assured me that it would be OK. They bought Leonora treats from the vending machines— Coke and a candy bar— and she ditched the milk and the banana.
Arthur came to meet me and we hung around but Leonora had lost interest in me for the officers and the coke machine. At last, word came that her mother had called and was coming to get her.
Shouldn’t I stay to meet her mother?” I asked Arthur. “No, you’ve done enough.”
The officer said to Leonora, “Aren’t you going to thank the lady and give her a hug?” And she did.
A few weeks later the police called.
“We’ve got a call that Leonora Reyes is missing and your name is listed with hers in our records. Is she with you?”
“No, I haven’t seen her since that day.”
“She seems to do this often,” he said, “Don’t worry, we’ll find her.”
That happened more than forty years ago.
I believe that the vast majority of our police officers are like the kind men who took care of Leonora. But how clueless am I? Every dealing I’ve ever had with the police has been respectful, even when I was pulled over for driving at night with the lights off. I said, “you know, I’ve never known how to turn on these lights! Aren’t they supposed to go on automatically?” The officer turned on the lights for me and sent me on my way.
As I said, clueless. I taught my children to look to the police for help in trouble but how many mothers have to say the exact opposite?
Derek Chauvin is not just a bad apple. He had 16 complaints against him and those are just the ones that got reported. Something has allowed him, his four partners and many others like them to flourish.
Windows were smashed in my neighborhood the other night, including at Warby Parker, who give away a pair of their eyeglasses for every one they sell.
It’s hard to see what smashing windows can accomplish but what do you do with helpless rage?
I found this paragraph in a 1993 NY Times review of James Q. Wilson’s book, The Moral Sense. I cut it out and pasted it in my little book of collages.
“Anger is the necessary handmaiden of sympathy and fairness, and we are wrong to try to make everyone sweet and reasonable. But anger, like those moral senses that it exists to defend, must be checked by other senses. Those others are self-control and duty. By the same token, self-satisfaction and narrow loyalties, which are emotions growing out of self-control and duty, must be checked by other sentiments, and these are sympathy and fairness.”
My new hero, Rapper Killa Mike, says, “Don’t burn down your own house.
Plot, Plan, Strategize, Organize Mobilize.”
And also, Fill out your census form and register to vote.
As we take his words to heart, let’s find ways to channel our anger into constructive action, and move forward together.
I pledge to examine my self-satisfaction and narrow loyalties.
I posted this collage a while ago—it’s George Washington thanking Lafayette for his help in winning our revolution. I’ve read that, while Lafayette revered Washington all his life, he also never gave up urging Washington to renounce slavery and free his slaves.
We can love our country and still see clearly that there is much work to do to live out the promise of her ideals.
This week we remember Christo, whose work, as Michael Kimmelman said in the Times yesterday, “generated no small measure of happiness and awe.”
I wrote about the Gates project in my blog last March. It was a magical experience for me, in no small measure because of the spirit of cooperation, of working together to build something beautiful to share with the world.