Peace Tree


I spent the morning
in the Peace Room at the Friends Center.
It sits in the light on the 3rd Floor.
Later that day I walked down
to the lower level, no windows.
The Justice Room is down there
I thought, “I wonder… why?”
“Why is the Justice Room below the Peace Room?”
“Is justice the roots sunk deep
from which the peace trees rise?”

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Skin deep

I am driving the minivan. My four year old daughter is behind me, strapped into her booster seat. A purple balloon rises up from her wrist, a bottle filled with candy in her lap, her eyes still wet from goodbye tears, her voice twittering with excitement, exhaustion, and complete satisfaction.  We are on our way home from her “best friend”s 5th birthday at Pump it up.

A: “Kensington is my best friend mommy!”

Me:  “I know. You told me!”

I love talking to her when she is like this.  This time in the car becomes more special every day, now that I am working full time – now that she spends long days at her suburban pre-school.

A: “Kensington is 5 mommy! I am 4. But she’s my best friend! She’s in my heart.”

I melt when she says these things. What words will her 4 year old brain spin out next?  I ask a question, waiting to be dazzled or amused, to be impressed with her smarts, or chuckle at her silliness.

Me: “Why is she your best friend sweetness?”

A: “Because she has the same skin color as me. Can I have this candy tomorrow?”

My voice catches in my throat.  My brain goes blank.

Me: “Uh huh.”

Should I say something more?  Is it ok that she is choosing best friends based on skin color?  She has moved on to talking about The Wiggles, and something about flying to Mars with her baby doll.  But I am stuck. Skipping like a record.

Of course, I had noticed at the party. Asha and Kensington were the only non White-skinned kids there who were not members of Kensington’s family.  Both of them a golden brown tone, children of mixed parentage. Kensington’s mother African American, her father Latino.  They both played with the other kids of course. They did not band together, or isolate themselves. They did not self-segregate.

This moment is pregnant.  It has meaning for me.  We are moving to Philadelphia, exploring neighborhoods, trying them on for size, one a weekend,  our little family of four, one White, one Brown, two Golden.

Who do we belong with?  Where  do we fit? On a busy street in one neighborhood, I am the only brown skinned person I see the whole afternoon, except for the Parking attendant.  We are strangers to this town but does that mean we should feel strange?

I feel strange when I am the only brown person in the room. It’s no one’s fault. No one has to be doing something wrong. I just feel strange.  I search the room for another brown skinned person. I have done this for as long as I can remember. Then I know I am safe. I am not so strange.

Now, I know my golden-skinned girl child feels something like this too. I thank goodness for my question and her answer. I thank goodness for these moments in the car – these windows, these mirrors. I am certain now, I must find a someplace where we fit. I must find a place we all can be. Perhaps strangers together, but together, never strange.

I ride the Regional Rail

I ride the Regional Rail to work and back again, from outside to in, Center City to Marcus Hook, where the oil refinery shoots plumes of orange flame and the ladies at the diner call me hon. I watch the signs – Eddystone, Crum Lyn, “The Gas Light”.  A worn billboard, paint curled, letters faded, stands tall midway. I can just make out the hopeful plug:

“Visit our suburban city, and see what’s new in Glenolden!”

The first time I saw it, I laughed.  But the joke is too old, and too sad to be funny.  The lost luster of the suburban dream reminds me that I am not as young as I used to be.

I ride the Regional Rail from my hometown, seeing it with my 36 years old, consciousness-raised, social-science eyes.  The Chester Transportation Center speaks its truth to me.  Promises broken,  people unmade, climbing too many stairs just to wait for a train to somewhere else. University City still ten stops away.

I ride the Regional Rail to work, from outside to in,  Marcus Hook to Center City, where the fountain at LOVE park shoots plumes of purple water and the lady at the chinese food truck knows I need more hot sauce.  The sky scrapers rise up, the murals sing praise songs, and I am young once again. My pulse quickens with the beating heart of the city until it’s time to ride the Rail again.