March 23, 2022 by Debra Gittler

Springing Forward…And Hoping the Numbers Fall Back

A couple of days of spring, and all the despair of Chicago seems to wash away. Masks are off and I hear people comment at how strange it is to be “normal.”

And sadly, in our work, as soon as we share blessings and hopes for an early spring (shared by whispers that it will probably still snow, after all, it is Chicago) we mumble and sigh, that we fear for what warm weather might bring.

More violence. More loss and grief.

There’s a weird respite in the first quarter of the year, because the violence statistics aren’t as weighty. Sure, we look at the numbers this year on this date compared to last, but in the coldest months things are always a bit slower, and there is hope, still, that this year will be better than the last.

Last month, I stopped looking at the daily reports. It somehow dawned on me how totally ludicrous it is to restart our count simply because the calendar year flips. Maybe because after five years working in Chicago, I know too many people whose grief and suffering happened before we sang Auld Lang Syne… the clock didn’t restart for them.

Or maybe it was the announcement in January that Chicago would pay for the funerals of the children killed by gunfire. You see, if we know that so many children are being killed, isn’t the right policy to do everything possible to stop it! I’m not opposed to paying for these funerals, I’m opposed to the fact that we see the problem as the cost of the service, and not the cost to our communities…

On Jan 28 of this year NPR reported about Chicago: The independent data collection organization Gun Violence Archive counted 1,055 children killed or injured by gunfire in 2021, up from 999 in 2020, and 695 in 2019. So far this year, the tally is at 74.

At the same time, today 16 children from Ukraine have been resettled at a school down the street from me, just three miles from West Garfield Park, where we will celebrate the Men of the MAAFA Redemption project as they publish their powerful personal memoirs in the Chicago neighborhood with the highest level of homicides, opioid overdoses and now the only Chitown neighborhood without a supermarket.

This summer, my baby will turn six years old, and my nephew turned 13 last week, and my niece will be 10 in October. As the children closest to me blossom and grow, I’m ever more aware of how much I’m terrified of them being harmed, and I grow all the more empathetic and irate about the loss of our City’s children and the pain to the families that love them.

I’m not naive enough to believe that we can get to zero anytime soon, but I deeply believe we can celebrate that there is more good than bad, and if we create the space to tell those stories and honor that, we will change the tide from counting misery toward recognizing and encouraging joy. I suppose I have to believe it. Because “[t]he fact that suffering, mundanity and beauty coincide is unbearable and remarkable.”

So this spring, as we’re taking off our masks and gathering in person, I really hope the big wide world will gather with us, so that we can celebrate the beauty, recognize the unbearable, and honor how remarkable it all is. So that we can plant more flowers and trees in honor of those lost, as safe spaces of beauty and nurture for our children today and in the future to thrive and grow.

SOLIDARITY

“I am washing my face before bed while a country is on fire. It feels dumb to wash my face and dumb not to. It has never been this way and it has always been this way. Someone has always clinked a cocktail glass in one hemisphere as someone loses a home in another, while someone falls in love in the same apartment building where someone grieves. The fact that suffering, mundanity and beauty coincide is unbearable and remarkable.”

From Notes from the First Few Days of 2020, by Mari Andrew

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