Every morning before the sun is up, I go for a run. Every morning my run takes me through several neighborhoods, but it always ends at the same place — on a bridge over the lagoon in Garfield Park, just as the daylight is beginning to settle comfortably across the sky.
I live in a community that I believe is one of the most beautiful in the city of Chicago — rivaled only by my neighbors to the west. It’s a community that, in the mainstream media, is broadly identified for the number of shootings that take place weekly or the open-air drug markets that abound. But to me, it’s a neighborhood that feels … neighborly.
It’s a neighborhood where, if I have a boot on my car, the guy that you just knew was a ladies man back in the day (perhaps before substance abuse visually aged him) would give me a ride downtown. It’s a neighborhood where the old guy who usually hung out in front of the gas station would grab a broom and help me sweep our block and pick up trash. It’s a neighborhood where I ran by a bus stop on Jackson St. and a high school kid in army fatigues — after seeing me run by him every morning as he waited for the school bus — decided one day to jog alongside me for one block, then two, then three. We never said a word, just jogged together until he got to the next bus stop and I turned up Kedzie Ave. to finish out my course.
It’s a neighborhood with many, many challenges. I dealt with the news of the 27-year-old mailman shot to death; ironically, shot to death just a few minutes after I ran right by him still sitting in his car down the block from my house — probably warming his car up that cold morning.
The old guy who helped me sweep my block died earlier this year and I know he struggled with illness, but had no health insurance. I went to his funeral and sat quietly in the back — the lone stranger in a sea of family members and friends. He had such a good heart, I had to pay my last respects.
The lady who lives next door to me and who drove me one time to pick up my car when it got towed — she struggles to make ends meet, selling loose cigarettes from the stoop. But in spite of her own struggle, she looked out for me and watched my every move when a man in dire need of mental health counseling and medication nearly attacked me in my building.
When I heard about the remains of a toddler found in the lagoon – the lagoon that caps off the start to my morning, I was sad. Sad because I thought about how a place of refuge, a lagoon in the midst of a concrete jungle – was the place of discovery for a toddler that had barely experienced anything that life had to offer. It made me sad because I knew that they would need to drain the lagoon to determine if there were any other gruesome discoveries to be made in it. It made me sad because for many, the park is a respite from the bustle of day-to-day life but now, it would be haunted by the ghost of a toddler gone too soon. The innocence of the natural setting in the park has forever been destroyed – much like the innocence of that child.
Sometimes, things happen that leave us feeling helpless. There are no sufficient words to convey the depth of dismay or sorrow at some of the cruelties that exist in this world.
A few weeks ago, I ran bit earlier than usual. It was still quite dark outside. Consumed in my thoughts, I ran up the sidewalk adjacent Garfield Park. I spotted a man, between 25 and 30 years old, walking with a little boy. I’m a quiet runner and usually I have to say good morning when I’m coming up behind people so as not to startle them in the stillness of the early morning. On this day, however, I was wrapped up in my thoughts, thinking about whether that toddler could have been saved. Within about 8 feet of the man and toddler, he whirled around, picking the boy up in his arms and wrapping them around the boy tightly with a look of fierce protection. It took him a second to register that a harmless woman jogging had startled them.
I quickly apologized and said good morning, after which he smiled and shook his head while gingerly placing the toddler back on the ground.
“You had me scared for a second there”, he said, chuckling.
I smiled and nodded and went on my way. I had seen the way he grabbed up that toddler in his arms and the steely, menacing look of a protector flashing in his eyes and I was reassured. I was reassured because, though the toddler discovered last month was a victim, at least this toddler I ran into seemed to have a protective figure in his life. Small solace, yes, but in a world where cruelty abounds, even the smallest light can push back the darkness that threatens to overtake it.