Reflecting on this year, especially the past 9 months of being homebound thanks to COVID, there has been one constant throughout which has been key to my well being: walking the dogs. We live in a condo (way up on the third floor) without a yard, which means the dogs have to get outside to walk on average of four times a day to take care of business. This routine means Terry and I are out and about with the dogs everyday. I always do the morning walk and since I have been teaching remotely, I also take most of the lunch and pre-dinner walks. These jaunts outside aren’t simply to take the dogs to the empty lot next door like one of our neighbors; instead, I have a philosophy that if we are going to traipse down 3 flights of stairs to go outside, we are going to make our walk worth it–so we do.
These pictures above I took on our January 1st morning walk and think they are a foreshadowing of the year: a generally quiet year, with sunshine and chilliness mixed in, but lots going on if you look closely. There is also a mixture of things I see on my path regularly like the home of the artist who does the You Are Beautiful campaign, as well as random items that turn up unexpectedly, like the shoe.
We have had our condo in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood for 15 years, but spent 7 of those years living in New Orleans and then nearby in Hyde Park when we moved back to Chicago, renting the condo to one of Terry’s brothers and his family. One of the main differences between our experiences the first 4 years and those these last 4 are that we have had the dogs–and they need to be walked. On beautiful mornings like January 1st and messy ones like this day in February.
With the walks, we are able to get out and about around the neighborhood, experiencing the outdoors, nature and the changing seasons.
And the architecture of this historic Chicago community.
Of course, I had a mask with me from the beginning of lockdown.
Most of the walks have been around the neighborhood, but a time or two, we ventured down to the Lake (which has been made a challenge on the Southside because of COVID restrictions to lake access).
The Importance of Greetings
One of the best pieces of advice given to me during my early Peace Corps days, that I have applied these past four years while walking the dogs, has been to say “Hello” and “good morning” to my neighbors. I channel my inner Grandpa Cooper & Uncle Jimmy, who could both start up conversations with just about anyone, and I have made a point of reaching out to people during our walks. I’ve learned a ton this way, about the community and individual experiences. It has also been a matter of personal safety. I’m obviously an outsider because of my race, but by saying simple ‘hellos’ and talking to people, I’m at least tolerated by most and on friendly terms with many–and people know that we clean up after our dogs. 🙂 People keep an eye on me and have my back. I’m a part of the community.
This practice laid the groundwork for a deeper connection this year during COVID and has been absolutely key. Since I live in the community of the high school where I work, I’ve run into my students and we are so tickled when we recognize each other and we see each other out of the backdrop of the in-person or virtual classroom. I’ve had so many great conversations with different people, including this fascinating elder Paulette who drives a white convertible, the security director of the local bank who just recently retired as an administrator after 30 years with CPS, and the woman who sparked my A Big Pause Button blog post in the spring.
Early on when we moved back into the condo in 2016, a black male in his late 20s-early 30s pulled up beside me and the dogs while we were walking, rolled down the windows of his white 2015 Cadillac, and said “Hey, Ms. B! How are you?” Turns out this was one of my former students from Harper High School, that most troubled school spotlighted by “This American Life” in the shows only 2-part episode. We talked that day and I found out he was living in the condo building across the street from ours with his mother and working for one of the Ford Plants in Chicagoland. I have to be honest, with him coming from Harper and West Englewood, I had my suspicions at the time as to how he was able to afford a Cadillac and to have supposedly bought his mother a condo in Bronzeville, but I also know that regardless, he was a good person and one of my former students. Later I had Terry find out his name for me (“Who may I say wants me to tell my wife hello?”) and learned that he was one of my Stephens. We would say ‘hi’ and chitchat in passing and then in February 2018 we had a big snowstorm and Stephen and I had a conversation that blew me away, which I posted about on Facebook:
During 2020, Stephen and I have had a number of really good conversations–although he is a man of few words–about his car while he was working on it one day (he got the Caddie because the model was best in class in 2015), his work at the Ford Plant, and his priorities, and I’ve had a number of conversations with his mother, as well. She is so proud of her son–knowing full well what direction his life could have easily turned down.
Stephen is also very intertwined with the days of civil unrest and marches following the George Floyd murder in late-May through early June in Chicago. Our building is a block away from a major intersection where there was a lot of looting and fires on May 31st, which blocked traffic and diverted it to our street. That weekend, that Sunday in particular, was something I have never experienced before in my life. However, because of my interactions with my neighbors and having to walk the dogs in the midst of it all, I had some of the most enlightening conversations ever that weekend, with Stephen and other neighbors.
The damage done to our greater community was considerable and services, like buses, were suspended.
But the community was much more resilient than I expected, beginning to clean up and rebuild immediately.
And the Black Lives Matter march through Bronzeville the Tuesday after the unrest was empowering.
Spring turned into summer, which turned into fall, and still Bleu, Zora and I walked. And now that fall has become winter again, we have come full cycle.
Glad for these two in helping me through this year. And on that note, here is one last pic of those two ready to go out and about in our neighborhood.