Sunday, August 19, 2007

Love, Peace, and Some Smooth Jazz

No, lovies, that's not the name of a new Amanda Bell Brown mystery. That's the kind of night I had!

Tonight, Inkster had it's first and hopefully annual Jazz on the Ave! Michigan Ave. to be specific. Only it rained a monsoon today, to the horror of church picnickers all over Southeast Michigan. We had our church picnic at St. Raphael's today! In the rain! But somebody was smart enough to think of tents, bless their hearts, and the show went on.

We got home from the picnic, and a few hours later was Jazz on the Ave! At first I thought they'd cancel, but I noticed that there were all kinds of signs in front of Inkster High School. I wondered if the concert would be held there because of the inclement weather conditions. Turns out that was exactly the plan, and though I was pretty tired after the picnic, I couldn't resist a free jazz concert, especially now that it was practically next door!

I grabbed my mother-in-law and ZZ, and the three of us walked the short distance in the rain to the concert. I can't remember the last time I walked through Inkster High. It's changed a lot. And in many ways, it's still the same.

So weird, going through your old high school. I did NOT do well in high school, as many of you know. And there was all this feeling slowly washing over me like the rain had outside. And it didn't feel bad. Just strange. It was a poignant feeling that I find hard to describe. It was a feeling of I was here. I spent four years here. And it wasn't all the bad stuff I remembered, because wherever there's a demon, there's also an angel, and we can't forget beloved, the angels still give the smack down to what's deviling us. I was surprised at all the goodness that I remembered, even though I was sorely miserable as a teen, and suspect the beginnings of bipolar disorder emerged in those particularly moody, depressed years.

We walked into the auditorium, and I found myself in a sea of African American people. And it was sooo strange, because in the past few years, I've walked into many a room full of white people! And often I was the only black person there. And now, here I was. Not the stranger. Not the other.

At this point in my life, I consider myself a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I don't say, "I don't see color." I do. I see glorious color and it's an honor to celebrate it. I like the diversity of the Kingdom of God. My citizenship in God's Kingdom trumps me being African American, and I love that. Once in my life, I was so into my "blackness" that I ended up a racist! And now, I just want to love, just as Jesus commands.

So, I walk in, and I see so many familiar faces. And so many unfamiliar. The city I once loved went right on with it's life. Keep moving people in and out. Babies got born. Old folks (and plenty of young ones) died. When I sat down, full of emotion, God spoke to me.

"Welcome home, baby," He said.

And grateful tears welled in my eyes. God is with me.

He's with me!

The music was magnificent. Jazz guitarist Tim Bowman, a native Detroiter, was the headliner. It was so peaceful. It reminded me of the Million Man march. At the march, so many people were prepared for riots, and folks just wanted to get together and celebrate each other. And chill. That's what we did. Chilled! Enjoyed good music without incident. What I witnessed was an auditorium full of people graced with the kind of goodwill that comes with the common goal of wanting more for their city. Not everybody had the means to leave. Not everybody wanted to. I had to remember Inkster wasn't all projects. There are lovely homes here. There are people who plant flowers, and paint walls, and this is their home. Everybody, everywhere, deserves that--a sense of home.

I admired the tenaciousness of the people of Inkster who'd come out in droves to get their groove on. I saw in those faces people who knew the worst that had happened here, and stepped up from the ashes like a collective Phoenix. The school system is changing. The morale is changing. God is moving here.

I saw Mr. Wilson on stage. Did I tell you about him? He was my fifth and sixth grade teacher. I was shy and awkward, but he let me perform the play during class that I wrote. That was the first creative thing I ever wrote. I became an actress and a writer in Mr. Wilson's class. I always improvised and played the grandmother in the plays. I was the only ten-year-old that Mr. Wilson nicknamed evermore, "Grandmother." He calls me that every time I see him. And now I am a grandmother!

When he found out I had dropped out of high school he looked for me. Told me if I'd go back he'd give me a scholarship, and he did! I went to nightschool two years after I should have graduated, and took two classes, and one of them was gym! That's all I needed to graduate. I had to start community college with that scholarship on probation because I'd had a D average throughout high school. But I went, academic probation and all, and going changed the course of my life.

No, I wasn't wildly successful, but imagine how things would have sucked for me if I never finished high school or went to college. Sometimes, that difference of just a few dollars more that I made because I'd gone to school made a huge difference in our lives. We didn't have much, but little bit more an hour meant more groceries for my big family. And school exposed me to ideas and people that widened my world considerably. I wouldn't be who I am without his intervention.

And there he was. Older. White-haired, but far from frail. His big spirit was still as charming and bright as ever. He was everything he used to be to me, and I'll admit, I still have a crush on him!

I tried to find him, but he'd gone home after he left the stage. I decided to go to the School Administration building tomorrow and give him a copy of the only book I have out now (Always Sisters) just to let him know how grateful I am. And that I accomplished more than I ever thought I would.

And here's a coup and star in his crown: Bill Gates just adopted the Inkster High School, and they are offering a free college education to any Inkster student who maintains a 3.0 GPA. Amazing, coming from a school system that at one time was so bad it was nearly shut down, and taken replaced by a neighboring city's school system.

I felt so good tonight that I got a City of Inkster denim, button down shirt! Put it on right there and wore it proudly! Ken walked over to the concert and we just chilled until he saw someone he knew and went to speak with him. I saw him smiling and embracing this man. My husband is so much happier here. He's out of isolation, and into community, and that alone is pure grace.

What a jazzy evening we had.

Sometimes, I realize that what I think is suffering is just an opportunity to learn something deep about God. And the thing is, I'm certain that on the day I cried in my Ann Arbor backyard, begging Jesus to please not make me move back to Inkster that He wept with me. Because He loves like that, even though He knew He'd pave my path with His roses.

When I got home I thought of a few other things. My Ann Arbor address did not keep my oldest soon out of prison. Or my other son from beginning to use marijuana. Jesus said ,"In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, because I have overcome the world." The roses sweetening our path still have a thorns that cut deeply into our flesh. Our footpaths will undoubtedly be stained with our blood. Isn't that a new spin on "Footprints in the Sand"? But, that's the way of the world. We will have tribulation. Zip codes don't bar us from tragedy. His promise was we could overcome because He had.

"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" That's what people in Jesus' community asked in his day. That sounds familiar. And you know what, God knew good could come out if it. He put the good, His Only Begotten Son, right there in that ancient ghetto.

"Can anything good come out of Inkster?"

I saw evidence of that tonight.

I'm so very grateful.


Elysa said...

Praise God, Mair, for the sweetness you are experiencing back in Inkster. God is so good...He knows what we need even when we don't understand or think we have that need.

Loved reading about your day and look forward to hearing more about your grace adventure "back home".

Jan Parrish said...

Beautiful. I had a teacher like that once. In fact, I was just looking at a certificate I received in sixth grade, back when I was still trying to ‘blend in’ which is hard to do when you’re so tall: “Most Organized Student”. I threw it away. Mom kept it thinking I might want it some day. She was right. But this teacher made me realize that I could work hard and achieve something - that there was more to me than arms and legs. She nurtured my love of writing. I’ve tried to find her to tell her what she did for me. I wish I could give her a big hug. Nancy Long, if you’re reading this, you rock.

Go give him a big hug. He’ll be so proud of you! Teachers are so underpaid for the amount of influence they have!

I loved your first book and my MIL is reading it now. I can’t believe it was your first book! Bell sounds like she belongs with my Starbucks Sisters. Obviously, you were born to write. I can’t wait to read the next one.

Wes said...

...can anything good come out of Inkster. EVIDENTLY!!! YOU...dear daughter of God...YOU!!!!!!!

Heather said...

beautiful story.
i love jazz! (although smooth is my least favorite)

Candy said...

I read and relished every word of this post. It oozes hope and love and light and peace, all the things I pray for you, Mair. What a huge blessing that you obeyed God and did not shrink back. But the part about Ken coming out of isolation - that was my favorite part. I love that guy if only because he loves you.

Joni said...

Oh, I am so jealous. The last time I heard GOOD jazz music was at Hart Plaza's fest several years ago.

Thanks for sharing this with us! God has good things ahead!

upwords said...

Welcome home baby indeed! Some beautiful things are coming out of Inkster already. I can smell the roses from here.

a homesick soul

Grace, Every Day said...

Love this post, girl. Great job describing a swirl of emotion and issues in a very meaningful way.

Congrats on Jesus welcoming you home - what a great celebration!!!!

Paula said...

What an incredible post and experience. I can't wait to hear about your reunion with your beloved teacher. What a man! He saw in you what we see--the incredible gifting of God to express His heart through words and he called you forth even then, calling out the gift God planned to use.

This post makes me happy tonight. I'm trusting the Lord to make this move something very good.

laundrygirl said...

This is beautiful and brings tears to my eyes.