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Life Imitates Art

Posted by on May 3, 2010

We had quite the weekend here on the East side.

Saturday morning, the boys woke us up as usual at the crack of dawn, brimming over with the excitement of cartoons and Wii games and big, sugary breakfasts.  The stuff that little boys’ dreams are made of: that’s Saturday mornings in our house.  While they were snuggled up on the couch downstairs watching animated hijinks, and Joe and I were struggling to open our eyes and join the world of the living, a police officer lost his life just two blocks from our home.

We didn’t know it had happened, and didn’t know about the subsequent lock-down and manhunt in our neighborhood until I hopped online at about 9:00 AM.  A friend sent me an instant message…did I know what was going on here on our side of the lake?  She lives on the other side, but had tried to go walking with a friend on the lake that morning and been forced to return home, as our entire perimeter was off-limits.  A cop had been killed, she messaged me; everything was blocked off in an area exactly around our home.  Our street was like the epicenter of the event.

I was suddenly aware of the sound of many helicopters hovering overhead.  This sound would persist until afternoon, when I would only find the absence of it eerie instead of reassuring, a sign that all had ended.  I looked out the windows and saw no one was outside.  I told Joe, in the shower, that he was not going to be mowing this morning.  I filled him in on the drama unfolding outside.  Two perpetrators; vague physical descriptions.  Ruthless, careless killers.  We were all staying indoors. 

At first, information was not available.  I stayed glued to my laptop, refreshing the news sites every few minutes to learn more about these men, about what I should be looking for.  A squad car with two officers had now parked at the end of our block, and would be there for the next 4 hours.  The boys played Super Mario downstairs, unaware of the tenseness of their parents upstairs.  I strove to keep it that way.  Finally, after 11 AM, the news that one of the men had been found; had attacked one of the police officers holding the perimeter violently and had been shot, dead.  The other suspect was still at-large.

Joe decided he would take the older boys to Free Comic Book Day, as planned, driving in the opposite direction of the blocked-off perimeter.  I agreed, and said I would feel better if one of us stayed at home, so Seth took a nap and I remained glued to my laptop, learning about what had already happened and what was still developing.  A carjacking, went bizarrely awry.  This man, cop, husband, father of twin 13-year-old girls, shot in an ambush on the bike path two blocks from our house.  The bike path Joe rides on almost daily, sometimes with our children.  I felt chilled.  I felt some relief but no satisfaction when the second suspect was arrested at about 1 PM.  I continued to listen to news conferences, read online reports, trying to make sense of what had just happened in my neighborhood.  My quiet, peaceful, friendly neighborhood.

In the end, it makes no sense.  Two young men, their lives completely wasted.  They were only 21 years old; one was now dead, and the other is going to jail for a very long time.  They had violent criminal pasts; so much youthful potential was squandered repeatedly.  A man who by all accounts was a loving family man and hard-working officer was dead.  His family is devastated.  I spent time praying for his family and the families of the suspects.  I prayed for those violent young men, too.  I prayed for the repose of the soul of that dead 21-year-old.  I prayed thanksgiving, yes, that it had ended and that my own family was intact.  I prayed thanksgiving that the 2nd officer attacked had not been killed as well.

It was a truly disorienting Saturday.  After we put our kids to bed that night, we decided to do what we’d planned on doing: watch a movie.  Even in the midst of chaos, we have our mission intact.  We decided to watch our latest Netflix mailing: Slumdog Millionaire.  You’ve probably seen it, but just in case you haven’t I won’t give much away.  It’s the story of two young brothers, Salim and Jamal, who live in the slums of Bombay.  They spend their time running, playing, getting involved in little-kid mischief until their mother (the only parent we see in the film) is killed in an anti-Muslim riot and now the young boys are orphans.

The older of the two boys, Salim, has always been a bit more practical, monetarily-focused, and calculating.  Jamal is a sensitive dreamer.  Salim spends the next several years keeping them both alive in whatever ways necessary.  They meet another young orphan, a girl named Latika, who Jamal instantly loves even in their extreme youth.  Salim is jealous of his brother’s diverted affections.  Somehow the three of them keep getting separated and reunited.  As they grow to adulthood they have very different paths they’ve taken to their survival.  Salim is violent, an accomplice of a mobster.  Latika lives as the abused mistress of that same mobster.  Jamal, who hates his brother for what has happened to him and to Latika, works as a chaiwalla at a mobile phone company.  He gets on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” not to win millions of rupees, but to attract the attention of the now-missing Latika.  He believes they are destined to be together, and this is his chance to find her once again.

My plot synopsis will end here, so those of you who haven’t seen the film will be able to do so unspoiled.  And I really, really do recommend it.  It’s difficult to watch: religious persecution, killings, torture and other uncomfortable things keep it from being, as the film critic from News of the World declared, “The feel-good film of the decade!”  Um, I disagree.  But it was a lovely film and Joe and I had to watch the last scene again when it was over to re-create the wonderful warm & fuzzy feeling it gave us. 

The walkaway I had was a bit different from what most people probably experience, though, and I’m not sure if it was because of what had happened earlier in our day or if my reaction would have been the same regardless.  No one can say for sure, I guess.  The thing, or rather the character, that I couldn’t stop thinking about was Salim.  The young boy who felt the hefty weight of responsibility from such a young age.  A young man who made decisions based on animal survival instincts; not just for his own survival, but for his younger brother Jamal, whom he loved unquestionably.  In spite of his mistakes, his misguided approach to life, he loved his brother and that lead him down a path of crime and trouble.  Why is it that in difficult life situations, some young people choose to become chaiwallas, living on the straight-and-narrow, while others wander down a thornier path?  I saw it often in my years of teaching; kids from similarly bad backgrounds who responded to adversity in completely different ways.  It haunts me that anyone finds themselves in such impossible, difficult situations at all, let alone young people.  For Salim, and for Jason Jones and Joshua Martin, my heart aches.  I cannot forget Salim, or any of the young people around the world who fight sometimes unperceivable demons every day just to stay alive.

2 Responses to Life Imitates Art

  1. Shawna

    Well, said. I was thinking of you that day, glad you all in the neighborhood were safe. My heart breaks for the officer’s family. For your readers: there is a fund for family members of officers killed in the line of duty, it is a small thing to do but helps to feel like one can reach out a hand at least.

  2. Crazy Aunt Linda

    On our tiny little island they are killing each other almost daily and I wonder when/if one of ‘my kids’ from the Home will be next. A loving home is the very best preventative against youth violence. Major thanks to the good parents and families of all types out there. I’d like to add, as inspiration to those of us who do not have children of our own, this line from “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin De Becker. “I have learned that the kindness of a teacher, a coach, a police officer, a neighbor, the parent of a friend, is never wasted. These moments are likely to pass with neither the child nor the adult fully knowing the significance of the contribution. No ceremony attaches to the moment that a child sees his own worth reflected in the eyes of an encouraging adult.”

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