It was hard getting up and facing the day. It was a holiday, and yet I felt no sense of celebration. Instead I sat for a while at our sorrowful mother shrine – our newly finished outdoor shrine in the Precious Blood Center peace garden. A small pieta rests atop flat stones with a flow of water trickling a healing sound. It’s a gift from the KC province built by Fr Tim Armbruster and Companion Debbie Bolin.
Two days prior as we were finishing the yard work around the shrine there stood Korry asking about our appointment on Tuesday, day after Labor Day. I had helped Korry fill out an application for an alternative high school, both of us aware he was beyond age with too few credits to be accepted. He needed help spelling many of the words as he filled it out. So we planned to get together Tuesday to just find a way for him now that he finally decided to get his life on track. Over the years he had been in and out of the juvenile detention center and never got around to being serious about changing his unruly, at times violent, lifestyle until recently. Now 19 and facing the possibility of adult lock up asked for my help.
I was glad he remembered our Tuesday get together and felt sure he’d show up. Knowing him and his family well, I had actually made arrangements for Korry and was looking forward to seeing him Tuesday – but he would never see another Tuesday. That encounter was the last time I saw him alive.
Sitting at the shrine hoping the next deep breath would bring relief, I felt devastated. Korry wasn’t the first of our youth killed by gunfire, and sadly won’t be the last. I’m not sure why this particular loss hit me so hard. Perhaps it was last night’s images still turning in my mind of the deeply saddened grandmother and pain-stricken younger brothers, relatives and friends at the county hospital when it was announced that he had not survived. Then the distraught mother’s cry, “my baby’s gone!”
Near the shrine my eye caught one of the two new blue spruce trees planted a few weeks ago. It brought some comfort. You see these two trees have their own story. Another youth I had worked with, whose lifestyle like Korry’s was unruly and at times violent, had been on the other side of a murder. Involved in the death of a rival gang member, Lincoln, though he had not committed the murder was arrested and sentenced to prison because he was implicated by being involved when it happened.
I was there when Lincoln graduated from a special education school; and as normal in his life his grandmother came late and missed it. His mother had been murdered years ago and grandmother was his legal guardian. Lincoln was one of the first youth to be involved in our founding of the Precious Blood Center located at that time at 47th and Damen. He was also involved in a small street gang calling themselves Pimp Set on 49th Place. When we moved the PB Center to our present location he helped with the painting and setting things up. During his incarceration we stayed in touch. He had written to me that he was determined to turn his life around when he got out.
A year and a half ago he was released from prison and now, age 30, lives with his sister in a different neighborhood; his grandmother had passed during his time in prison. He got a decent job at a nursery and a few weeks ago told me that there were two 7-foot blue spruce trees the nursery would donate. With his help and some of our neighbors, the trees were delivered, holes dug, and trees planted in our peace garden all on one beautiful morning in the Back of the Yards neighborhood. That’s the story of one of our youth, Lincoln, who turned his life around, and today he is alive.
Death and life at the Precious Blood Center have taught me that all blood is precious. As it pours out in our streets; it’s precious. As it keeps one alive through prison to freedom; it’s precious. As it pumps through a wounded mother’s heart; it’s precious. Even should it boil up in youth who live unruly, violent lives; it’s still precious.
There I sat that Labor Day morning in our peace garden gazing at the statue of Mary holding the lifeless body of her son. I recalled Korry’s mamma, Tawanda, looking through the glass window in the morgue to view her son’s lifeless body. Two mothers in faith holding on trusting that this is not the end of the story. In the shade of an uprooted and replanted living blue spruce reminding me of Lincoln’s uprooted and replanted life, I could hold on and face that day and days that lie ahead like the never ending flow of trickling water – our living and loving, even should we die, never comes to an end.
We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking. Henri Nouwen