Monthly Archives: September 2011

Lost Boys

My brother and I raced up the steep hill. We were in a hurry because our friends were waiting for us. We’d spent a large amount of our last month of summer riding dirt bikes through the trails with our friends Robby and Mikey. Today, as we skid to a stop at their driveway a third person was with them. He was our age with light blond hair. Robby told us his name was Nick and he had moved into the neighborhood behind Otto. I noticed that Nick and my brother got along right from the start. It was nice to see. Together our little group of racers spent the rest of the summer on the trails, playing games and hanging out together. Despite not being at the same schools our neighborhood group spent most of our free time together. We took turns roaming from our woods, to the Vermillion’s, to the Eisele’s and the Welcher’s. We started out biking and playing tag type games. As we aged the games turned into kissing tag, capture the flag and tackle football. There are certain Van Halen and Def Leopard songs that when playing transport me to Nick’s house. And that Abracadabra song brings back graphic memories of Mikey dancing in his basement during one of our capture the flags games. As we aged into high school we began to drift into different groups. By the time the older kids were driving, our group no longer could call themselves a group anymore. We all still had a connection but maturity had packed it away into a treasured box keepsake. For many years I didn’t even think of Nick or our group. A few came out when Walter died, but the haze on that day keeps me from really remembering. I’ve heard from some since then that they didn’t even know about his death.

In 1998 my best friend from growing up was getting married. I was asked to be part of the wedding and I was partnered with Nick, the groom’s cousin. I hadn’t seen him in over 10 years and was a bit anxious. During the rehearsal I anxiously waited for him to come in. He was no longer the short, baby faced boy who teased us girls too much. He was tall and walked in with confidence. He smiled and walked right over to me and asked what we were supposed to be doing. Despite his insistence on being uninformed, he had a confidence and self assuredness that immediately put me at ease. When my parents first separated in 1983 Nick was one of the only people who would talk to me about it. We would sit in the tree fort and talk for hours. He asked the deep questions that others were too afraid to ask and he would listen to the answer. He was a true source of comfort during that time. It was this type of intensity he brought to the wedding. With his knowing eyes and earnest perception of who I really was it seemed very much like my brother was standing next to me again.
If I had known that the day of the wedding was going to be his last on earth I would have spent more time getting reacquainted. I would have tried harder to have one of those earnest talks we had as kids. But I didn’t know. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out that most of the wedding party had spent the wedding night into the following morning at the hospital where Nick was pronounced dead after a tragic car accident.
I remember the next day driving to the corner of Grand River Ave and Tecumseh River Drive. I remember seeing the etched tire tracks into the grass. I remember the broken glass. I had my wedding bouquet with me and placed it at the corner; creating a makeshift memorial. And I cried. I cried for the loss. And I cried for the loss of my brother, who wasn’t alive to watch his best friend get married. And I cried for two young men who grew up together and had their lives abruptly ended way before they should have.
Today, thirteen years later nothing is at the corner. The telephone pole sits askew but I couldn’t tell if it was from Nick’s accident or not. The neighborhood is perfectly quiet and peaceful; not knowing it holds the ghost of a tragic accident. My best friend and her husband still live on this street. Today they celebrate 13 years of marriage. Sometimes the streets of Lansing are an empty canvass that I explore anew. Sometimes, though, certain streets with the right seasons are pathways filled with decades of life, dreams, experiences and loss.

A Good Habit

They say it takes doing something seven times to make it a habit. I’ve been a part of Lunch With a Purpose for about two years now and well over that seven times mark. I like that Thursday lunch usually means planning to spend an hour with great people doing something to help a local Lansing community effort. Today’s adventure in volunteering took us to Habitat for Humanity Restore. I had been aware of this store for many years but had never taken the time to actually find it or go. It is located at 1941 Benjamin Dr. in Lansing’s north side. The Restore sells used or not needed building supplies at the large warehouse squarely positioned on a quiet street end. The entire operation is run by volunteers. Our job, as volunteers, today was to help organize materials for the winter. We had a group of about 15 stationed throughout the property cleaning, sorting and unloading. I enjoy this work. It feels good knowing that we are helping people, who are helping people.

Simple Walk for Peace

Today is a new holiday. I found out about it from a TEDx video. I have volunteered for TEDx Lansing for 2 years now and whenever I see a video shared by someone online I usually watch it. This video was by Jeremy Gilley who stumbled upon a new idea in 1998. Through his young life he had become disheartened by the overwhelming acts of violence throughout the world. This thinking brought him to the idea that there should be a globally celebrated peace day; Peace One Day. As he got his message out more and more leaders of countries came on board and supported his idea. He saw his idea create opportunities to save lives. He saw his ideas gain momentum and flourish in new places. He brought celebrities on board to add visibility to his goal. However at his very first public meeting, where he invited thousands and thought his enthusiasm would result in a high turnout, resulted in only 114 attending; mostly family. And yet his idea is still growing ten years later.
When I watched the video I was overcome with the desire to spread this message. I felt I needed to do something. I too, sent out emails and created an event. I thought my enthusiasm would bring a crowd out to share in the simplicity of spending the evening at the park. And just like Jeremy’s first meeting, only my family came. The funny thing is; I’m not disappointed. Yes, the turnout was not what I had hoped, but it was what I had expected. But I put the idea out there. I shared Jeremy’s dream of peace with a population that is somewhat outside his audience. We can all do better with bringing in more peace. How many who read my posts did something a little different today? I know I did. I called a family member that I had been on bad terms with for over two years. I was really scared that she would still be upset or reject me. But she didn’t. She talked and listened and asked questions. It was wonderful. It lifted my spirit! I felt that a million pounds had been removed from my chest. I felt wonderful! Because I decided on this day of peace I was really going to DO something. All day, I smiled a lot more. I waved at people. I didn’t tail gate and I even used the little arm that separates out your groceries from the person behind you at the self checkout lane at Meijer’s, that I have rejected using because I think it’s rude and causes impatience. But I used it. And I was happy I used it. Having that sense of peace in my heart made my perspective for the whole day change. It was amazing! I loved it. I decided to have peace instead of anger or fear, or dread, or pride, or hate. And it worked!
Happy Peace One Day everyone. 365 day countdown to Global Peace One Day September 21, 2012

A Park Project

This month is my twelfth month of walking the streets of Lansing, MI. I have put great energy into promoting the positive aspect of Lansing and keeping an overall optimistic feel for this project. Many times I am honestly awestruck by the passion of home owners and the generosity of community members. I make note of the smiles and handshakes, polite head nods and friendly conversations. But I’ve also noticed the mattresses under highway over passes, homes boarded up and orange tagged. I’ve passed many homes and businesses with obvious signs of neglect. Today I found myself at a park. It’s a very large park, surrounded by well recognized businesses and establishments. The prosperity of Neogen, The North Police Precinct, nor Prudden Place down the road has not trickled down into this park. The north side of the park, despite its position on a very visible street, is hidden behind a guardian of over grown plant life. There is a bench in there, facing Saginaw, Motor Wheel Lofts, and the freshly landscaped North Precinct. Yet you couldn’t see it without standing right above it. And sitting on it would be impossible without garden shears. The park takes up a whole block on all four sides, making it one of Lansing’s larger parks. Within its boundaries lies a grass covered baseball field, a soccer field, picnic tables with rusted out grills and a basketball court. The playground equipment has a broken slide wrapped in orange fencing preventing children from using it, yet a local day care center group was more than happy to continue using the rest of the playground. As I walked through the park I wondered at the potential. I’ve seen what happens when the communities, many times encouraged by a single individual, commit to making something better. I’ve seen couples concerned about a neighboring home going into foreclosure, buy that home and convert it into a community resource center. I’ve seen businesses encourage the use of empty lots by converting them into urban gardens. As I walked through Oak Park today, I felt that something could be done here. This park should show equal growth on the south side of Saginaw as the north side. It could represent our expertise in gardening and agriculture. It can become the destination of families who want a safe place to play with their children. It really will be all that and more if we can commit as a community to shine up a true diamond in the rough.

Check out the rest of my photos on the City Saunter Facebook Page!

Diversity City

The map doesn’t come even close to representing the true nature of downtown Lansing. The square blocks and pink shapes representing buildings are no more significant than any other in the city limits. Yet the downtown summons you there with its one way streets and beckoning skyline. It homes some of the most visible and visited buildings in the city; the Capitol, Lansing Community College, the Capitol City District Library, Cooley Law School, The Michigan Supreme Court and Michigan Historical Center. If you add in non-profit offices, union offices, art galleries, restaurants, the stadium and the river it becomes obvious why so many find themselves down there. It is also obvious when I walk down there how diverse the population is in this city. There’s the pristine suit wearing state workers but also the well-worn dark clothed homeless men. There’s the middle aged, sure of themselves women fast walking before taking up their office jobs and the overworked, just above poverty, working class girl waiting for the bus. There are students and teachers. There are those building up buildings and those tearing them down. There are those exercising and those exercising their rights to protest on the Capitol lawn. Not only is there diversity in the people but also the structures. Within view of gigantic government buildings sit dilapidated homes, grown over yards and businesses and even blocked off abandoned streets. However even within these less prosperous areas there is diversity. For each handful of rundown homes sits one newly sided one with a sign stating this home is part of a Neighborhood Stabilization Project. Despite quite a few over grown yards there also were a few plots of land flourishing with flowers, vegetables and fruit; an urban community garden set up by The Garden Project.

It’s all proof of the ebb and flow and give and take of a community. The rich and the poor and the many sitting right in the middle. There are the generous givers and the takers. There are the buyers and the sellers. There are the learners and the educators. In it all, you cannot have one without the other.

Going on a Dragon Hunt

As silently as I could I slid out of my car. The hot, moist air lapped over my air-conditioned body like the hot breath of a large animal. This was my second attempt at trying to locate the beasts. Through the morning haze I detected movement. Bright colored objects reflected in the early morning glow. A smile touched the corners of my lips. I had found them. As I ventured closer, I saw a crowd with matching shirts eagerly watching two burly men wrestling with the first beast. The nearest man had his back to me. He was grasping the front of the beast and aligning it into position. The second rode the back of the sleek, yellow body, calmly waiting his chance to make his move. Then it happened. With an echoing, deep, rumble the final binding rope was released and the two men lurched together with the beast, subduing it gracefully into the water. A cheer went up as Lansing’s first Dragon Boat entered the Grand River. Without even a pause the men quickly went for the second dragon. The heavy utility diesel truck slowly backed the dragon on the trailer into the water once again. Within minutes the second dragon was released from its binds and floating in the river. The two dragons; sister racers, would become the center of attention for the next 30 hours. This Labor Day weekend, coinciding with the Mosaic Festival, Lansing hosted its first ever Dragon Boat Racing.
With both vessels river washed and assembled it was time to move them into position for the next two days. The eager volunteers, donning life jackets and void of anything not water proof, climbed aboard each dragon per instructions. With each vessel commanded by a masculine instructor they began their voyage down the Grand River to the docking area and Athlete Village.

Later that evening as dusk rolled in another crew of volunteers, wearing dark clothing swiftly boarded the two 40’ boats. In coordinated strokes the two dragons soon rested side by side in the center of the river. After a few words from officials and a sponsor read through, the opening ceremony to cleanse the river in preparation for the next morning races began. All guests resting along the banks sat in awe and delight as the dragons became fire-breathing.

The next morning, earlier than most arise on a Sunday, found the river banks full of activity. The empty tents of Saturday were today packed with eleven teams of up to 24 crew mates. Each team was decorated in a specific colored t-shirt, many with creative names; Star Oars, Draggin Ass and Dirty Oars to name a few. Although many looked unkempt in the morning light, all had a glint in their eye and an eagerness to start the races. Throughout the day each team took turns racing each other; at first time trials, then actual heats. At the end of the races only one team was the winner. But really, at the end of another exciting, well organized Lansing event, we are all winners.