This is another entry in, “Things they never taught you in seminary.” What was to have been a nice, quiet walk through Cedar-Riverside, wasn’t.
I headed out the back door, began down 20th Ave. and turned right on 6th. This is a route I often take. As I made my way down 6th I could see a group of kids hanging out on the corner. My first thought was that school was out and they were just hanging out. It looked like there were 8 or 10 kids just sort of mulling around, I thought. Being a die-hard introvert, it did occur to me that I could turn around and change my route. I do like walking alone. But that is not the only point of these walks. I also walk to ‘be’ in the neighborhood. To see what’s going on, what the mood on the streets is. So, I continued on my planned route.
As I got closer, though, I could tell something else was going on. Another 25 yards or so closer, I could tell there was some kind of tension in the group. By the time I got to the group I could see that it was a fight. By this time, it was too late to turn around. Whether or not I wanted to be, I was now committed to approaching the group.
My hope was that when they saw me coming, they would stop fighting. They didn’t and I found myself having to do something about this fight now right in front of me. It’s amazing how many calculations you can make at a time like this. It seemed like in less than a second I had determined that they were taller than me, but skinny. That they were girls, probably in middle school. That being girls it was maybe less likely that there would be a weapon involved. That no one else was going to anything about this fight.
Before I knew it, I was yelling, “stop the fighting!” “Stop the fighting,” as if thought that would do it. Of course, it didn’t stop the fighting, but it did cause everyone from the group to scatter except for the 2 girls still fighting, now on the ground. An incomplete calculation: I have never been in a fight or had the opportunity to break one up before, but it did seem to me like they were not fighting very effectively. Just swinging without much thought. Is that good or bad, I didn’t know.
Still yelling, “Stop the fighting” I saw out of the corner of my eye a young man, big, strong-looking, who quickly disappeared. Where did he go at such a time as this?
My next calculation: the only way this is going to end is to get down in there and pull them apart. There I was, trying to find an arm or leg to use somehow to break it up. The first leg I grabbed didn’t work. Getting down in there a little bit more I somehow pried them apart. Still yelling. “Stop the fighting.”
The next thing I knew the one girl, who had been on top, was running away and the girl on the ground was quiet, her face covered with her jacket, panting. “Are you OK?” “Are you OK?” No answer. I retrieved her backpack in case some of the kids returned, although they were clearly long gone.
A woman I did not recognize further down 6th St. saw the two of us, the girl on the ground and me there, screamed, shouted a few 4-letter words and went the other way, at which time the girl on the ground started crying. “Are you OK?” Nothing. Until she got up and walked away. “Are you OK?” I followed a bit and she just kept walking away.
I was the only one left on the street.
That was when it occurred to me that this could have really gone wrong somehow.
I continued on my walk, heart pounding, wondering what I had just done. With trembling fingers, I texted Carla, a friend and Safety Specialist in Cedar-Riverside. I wondered if I should report this? But I didn’t even see who any of the kids were. Would it be good to debrief? Soon, sitting in her office I told her the story. She listened patiently with a knowing smile and said, “You were the adult there.”
Is that what it means to be a Christian presence in Cedar-Riverside, or anywhere? To act like an adult? Apparently, sometimes, it does.
I didn’t recognize any of the people that afternoon, which is unusual. I usually recognize someone. But I have wondered: Was there a history of some kind between these kids? Will something else happen in the days to come? Did any of them know who I was? What was it like for these kids, especially the 2 girls on the ground fighting, to have a little white lady they didn’t know break up their fight?
I’ll never know. But it felt good to have done some adulting that day.
Original Journal Entry date: 2/5/20
© Jane Buckley-Farlee 2020. All rights reserved.
At less than 4'11'' a pastor and the congregation she serves practice radical hospitality in a primarily Muslim neighborhood.