About a week ago my five-year-old grandaughter and I attended a kindergarten graduation party. The celebration was put on by the child’s grandmother who I had met the week before when visiting a friend’s church. “Hey, we should get our granddaughters together,” I suggested. “Why don’t you bring her to my granddaughter’s graduation party,” she offered.
The family lived in a duplex in a “sketchy” neighborhood about 15-minutes from our house. We live what I like to refer to as the gritty city ourselves, but there are all houses on our street, and it’s pretty quiet. Everyone appears to be owners rather than renters, which gives them an emotional investment in the neighborhood. The majority of them have raised their children here, and it’s a quiet oasis with outlying areas that are less than pristine. Still the area in which the grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter lived had a much different flavor. It seemed tense and jumpy with a certain uneasy energy in the air. A man walked by pushing a shopping cart with a long, worn out sofa perched precariously and hanging off the sides of the cart. He did not seem out of place on this street.
I wasn’t really put off by this scene. After all it was broad daylight, and children splashed in a blow-up pool and jumped energetically in the blow-up jumper. Party guests sat at tables eating fruit and hot dogs or milled about exchanging family news. I think my granddaughter and I were the only ones there who were not related to the party girl and her grandma. I was a little ill at ease, because I didn’t know anybody, not even the party giver, really, but I had brought my granddaughter here to play with children and jump off some of the energy all healthy children possess and adults would like to channel.
We had been dropped off at the house by my son-in-law, and after a few hours we were definitely ready to go. I called my son and asked him to pick us up, and he agreed. Earlier in the day I had seen two young men pass by on the street, and something made me pay attention to their presence for a brief moment before the disappeared down the street.
Suddenly I heard the sounds of pop, pop, pop, pop in rapid succession. Sometimes I hear the sound of fireworks in the distance at my house, so I didn’t think much of those sounds. Lots of kids were graduating, and it would not be unusual for people to celebrate with fireworks…Only these weren’t. The party girl’s mother quickly yelled “Everyone get in the house!” There was fear and urgency in her voice. The kids were lead out of the jumper, my granddaughter being one of them. My granddaughter had taken her shoes and socks off to get in the jumper and was trying to retrieve them, but I hissed “Just get out of the jumper.” I didn’t want to scare her to death, but I didn’t want her to be hit by a stray bullet either.
Very quickly we heard sirens and probably an ambulance as well. We were all in one of of the two duplexes. My granddaughter was in the little girl’s bedroom with some other children, and they all began to talk about the shooting, which was probably the first my granddaughter heard of it. I was beyond grateful that she was safe…that we all were safe.
My son seemed to take a long time to arrive. He had stopped for gas. As I write these words, it occurs to me that we might have been walking towards his parked car on the street when the bullets were fired, if he had come any earlier. I’m sure we have so many close calls in life that we are not even aware of…that we may only find out about when we get to Heaven. My son pulled into the driveway. I was a little reluctant to leave the house with my granddaughter to get into the car. I was reasonably sure it was safe at that point, but I was reluctant to take the slightest chance with my precious grandchild with me.
Seeing my son’s emerald green car and his calm face was so reassuring. He might as well have been the angel Gabriel wheeling around in a golden chariot. I was so relieved to see him and get out of there. Yes, things can happen anywhere. Like my former pastor said “The devil knows how to get on the freeway,” but this day, it had happened THERE, and THERE was where I wanted to get away from and the faster, the better. The street was closed off, so we went in the opposite direction, which was more than fine with me.
Yesterday I called the woman who had invited us to the party just to make sure everyone was okay after we left. I also wanted to see if she had any word on the people who were shot. It turns out two boys were shot had died at the scene. Now I try to remember what the two guys walking down the street looked like. I wonder if it was them, and I wonder if I was inadvertently one of the last people to see them alive.
All of this happened just four buildings down from where we were celebrating a milestone in the life of a five-year-old. Who could predict that on that very same day, on that very same street, there would be no more milestones for two young men whose lives were cut short by what should have been celebration fireworks.