This I Believe

Shana - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Entered on December 13, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: community

Beyond all Things Material. I Believe.

At 28 years 11 months and three weeks this is what I believed: that neighborhoods of any economic, ethnic or cultural makeup, were, for the most part, safe for a Sunday afternoon stroll to the corner store. Naïve?

At 28 eleven-months and three weeks old I had lived in two countries other than the U.S.. One of them a third world country where the poverty reached deep (beyond all things material) and into children’s empty stomachs. The other a Mediterranean town that had its challenges but was not in desperation.

I’ve traveled to almost 20 different countries, hopping in and out of all means of local transit, sipping soups and dipping breads made of all ingredients foreign to me. Lived on the East Side, the South Side, and other pockets in Milwaukee a blue collar town that likes its beer and football. I believed I’ve seen a lot and that there is Always more to be seen. That traveling is a key to figuring this out. To assembling the reasons why this life is precious, why, indeed, I believe in anything at all. And that traveling to a different country was not the only kind of travel that counted. My own neighborhood offered so much to be discovered. And so when I left my home on that Sunday afternoon I stepped onto the sidewalk encompassing all I had seen before. All foreign and all familiar.

The sun was out, families were barbequing in their yards; students, artist, children, dog walkers and the in-betweens filled the busy streets. A familiar scene: a fall day in early October, a time when the air feels good on your face and taste even better. A time of year unique in Wisconsin, that offers you the luxurious choice of either wearing a light coat or not. I chose not to that afternoon. My light blue t-shirt absorbed just the right amount of sun to keep me warm as I walked back from the store. A Sunday paper in hand and the company of the neighborhood had made a perfect combination. And at 28 I thought that day to be a good day, a simple one. I think it’s important to get out of your car and to see things by foot. So I cherished these little errands that fill in my ‘disconnect’ from my neighborhood.

I headed west on Center Street and cut into my ally to go home (just three houses in). My strides were filled with the past, my hands heavy with a Sunday Journal Sentinel, and soon my shoulders felt the weight of an unexpected man. Just a few feet into the ally a man came up from behind and stopped me in my tracks. His arm reached around my neck in a choke-hold. His warm breath took the place of the cool fall breeze. With intent to harm, to steel, to break, he pushed me farther into the ally away from the busy street. Somehow he SHOUTED-quietly, and told me to give him my money. To give to him what was mine. Solemnly asking me the question of whether or not I wanted to die that October afternoon. Instilling, within a few feet, a fear I never had before possessed anywhere else in the world. Pushing me somewhere I had never traveled.

His grip was tight. But fortunately so was my ability to think straight. Having no weapon, other than himself, I got loose enough to scream “Help! Help!” And within those seconds and that one word, he let go, grabbed my money and ran. I shook. Shaking. Neighbors came out to see what had happened. I stood there stoically. I was sad. I was disenchanted. I had changed within only a few strides. And I new it.

This happened a few days ago, so when I turn 29 next week, what will I believe in?

What will it be? And is it true that:

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Fast forward: present time December, age 29 and some months:

I now walk with a keener eye and with skepticism in hand. But I still walk. An innocence usually only possessed by the really young has been dropped (way over due I suppose) and I’m happy for that. And in the end I’ve forgiven that guy for scarring the crap out of me-and I thank him for doing just the same.