Somewhere in the early days of this journal I'm certain that I wrote of "Betty's 500 ft. area of responsibility" ... .
In the light of the unbelievable savagery experienced in Paris this weekend, I could feel myself shrinking back into the desperate mindset of those days:
On the streets outside our little store in South Berkeley the drug trade had claimed territory and our building was right in the middle of it. We were at ground zero. Within a few weeks -- at different times -- I witnessed 4 young black men brutally shot down on the streets; it was a turf war. A police car in fast pursuit in the middle of the night crashed through our plate glass windows. On a quiet Saturday afternoon with customers browsing the record bins, a bullet screamed through our window from a police action across the street -- and was embedded in the wall behind the counter. A meeting held by the tenant on our second floor -- a meeting which included the police chief caused the suspicious drug dealers to affix barrel bombs to our 8' plate glass windows and blasted them out in the middle of the night leaving us vulnerable to looters.
Another dark day, due to the indescribable fetid odor of decaying flesh reeking from our dumpster, the garbage collectors found the remains of a fetus that had been festering for a number of days -- from some unknown troubled young soul, surely.
Over time I developed the ability to imagine that there were buttons just below my rib cage, and that I could press one of them as I got out of my car each morning -- to enable the ability to dumb down to a level of insensitivity that would allow me to exist over another work day on the street -- before climbing back into the driver's seat on an exhale upon closing. Just another day of survival in my state of existence as 3/5ths of a human being (as an African American). And I suppose, another 5th might be knocked off for my status as woman.
At that time I had more money invested in irons bars on my doors and windows than in merchandise for resale. It was then that -- when I attempted to buy insurance coverage the agent told me that if I could lift our building up and set it down 3 blocks in any directions, they would be happy to write a policy, but where it stood there was simply too much risk. I could not count on help, either from the insurance company or the police department who were reluctant to clean up the area, "... because when something happens in other parts of town, we know the most likely place to pick up the culprit!" They were using our neighborhood as a catchment area for their own purposes.
Though I've never shirked my political activist role, it was during those years that I stopped trying to change the world and made a commitment to limit my personal area of responsibility to changing just 500 feet! It worked. The world would have to take care of itself but everything that lay within my self-imposed boundaries had better shape up or ship out! It only was then that life became manageable, and the awful panic subsided. That familiar feeling of a chronic state of panic has returned since Paris ... .
Over past years I've allowed my self-determined sphere of influence to expand unrealistically; to gradually take in city, state, and at times national issues; rarely international. Currently, my activism includes work with the National Park System, and in that work I've had some real successes. That is, until Friday's horrific headlines from Paris.
Woke Saturday morning after a sleepless night of agonizing over the brutality -- the unbelievable savagery of ISIS in the unprovoked attack on innocent people in a bloody massacre that defies the imagination! My breathing is not as measured as before, and I have to keep reminding myself to stop the occasional dry sobs so that my palms will be less sweaty and my heartbeat can ease into a more reasonable rate. I'm experiencing even greater fears as in those dark and frightening days when forced to reduce my world to a more manageable size.
I'm willing to be responsible for my 500 feet, again, if the rest of you will take up those on the East, West, North, and South of mine. You'll need to recruit for the footage beyond those you designate as your own, though, if we're going to pull this off. Maybe we can still make it work. I have to remind myself that -- before turning the store over to my son, David, some years ago -- I had brash young drug dealers standing on street corners with clipboards in white shirts and ties - registering voters!
It's conceivable that ISIS will pose more complex problems, but I'm game if you are.
Meanwhile, I'm simply terrified.
It's this awful feeling of profound helplessness ... and the deep down gnawing suspicion that the known world has spiraled out of anyone's control.
... but this morning as I listened to our young capable President Barack Obama, I was able to lean on just a few moments of confidence in his leadership, before it evaporated into the somber sound bytes coming from NPR. I can imagine no one in whom I have greater trust in these dark days of fear and uncertainty.
He obviously can't limit his world to 500 feet. He has the awesome responsibility of the nation and all of the people of the world, who like me, are hungrily looking to him for guidance and assurance that life will go on even as it veers so tragically off course. Dr. Carson? Really? Who else would you suggest?
Would that those who are manning those roadblocks that prevent him from fully governing would stand aside and allow his wisdom to prevail -- is there really anyone else in sight with the power and the purpose to lead us toward a more compassionate future?
Think about that, then take the 500 ft. that abuts mine (east, west, north, or south) and see that everyone who is an eligible voter is registered.
That's how we begin to re-create Democracy in our time.