The phone says we should stay home.
A neighbor says we shouldn’t worry because he has loaded weapons.
The parents say, “No, muchachas, you can’t bike anymore outside today. Come in and we’ll try to explain about the robbers.”
The news says it was smash-and-grab, and then mostly just smash, at the mall and moving south along Torrence Avenue.
Some coward who has little to say got the front window of the small jewelry shop a block from our house.
Hey, did you hear they built a wall of those big highway concrete blocks just off the Calumet exit? And piles of dirt and trucks barricading all the major roads of South Holland?
Wednesday hiking at Indiana Dunes National Park, with all the campers and trail walkers and beach goers trying to be extra friendly. I don’t think that was because we’re afraid, but because we believe the times call for extra efforts at human connection.
Thursday, a birthday family outing to trail three, the one with kid-sized waterfalls, at Turkey Run State Park. There is some peace in a part of the world that simply grows.
And then Thursday night, the doorbell rang. There was some commotion outside in the deepening dark. No one was at the door, but the trees streamed with whimsical and hygienic vandalism. I spotted the mostly-puerile perps gathered in a shadowy group over by church and chased them into their already-running vans in the back alley. But, in a surprise move, they spilled back out of their vehicles and cornered me against the brick wall of the church. They had me right where they wanted me. And so they sang “happy birthday.”
We ascertained that certain individuals, at the instigation of certain other individuals, and with the approval of certain senior neighbors who conveniently claimed they “were just out for a walk,” had TP’d our house. For those for whom this is an alien practice, to “TP” a house is to use dozens, professionally at least 100, rolls of toilet paper to decorate mercilessly a home’s landscaping. One bubbly participant gleefully noted it was her first such prank, and how odd it should occur alongside her parents! Others clearly had employed technique born of experience and spun two-ply high into tree branches. It’s all in the wrist. Goose-neck follow-through.
We enjoyed the sleep of the amused that night.
Friday morning dawned on mystified daughters, curious drivers at our corner, and a chance to demonstrate what we all must continue to learn.
As we bundled up the TP, and collected unspent rolls to auction on ebay, various neighbors commented. Some chuckled or gave clean-up tips. Someone walking by wanted to confirm that the mess was “friendly fire.” Now that I think about it, the reactions broke clearly along a particular line. One neighbor, especially, was concerned enough to come over.
“Oh, yeah, we just got TP’d, but it’s easy to pick up.”
“I got my kids up and we’ll come over and help clean up.”
“Oh, no, thank you. We’ll have this done in half an hour. Just hose down the stuff my sky-scrapingly-tall wife can’t reach. But it’s nice to meet you. You’re the third house there, right? Well, my name is Dan and what’s yours?”
Amidst the social connection, I didn’t explain things that I didn’t think needed explaining.
Later that morning, though, we heard through the grapevine that a social media post about “who would do this?” on a community page had begun to buzz with outrage and horror and the small voices of reasonable doubt.
“It’s a hate crime!”
“It’s time we got to rise up and get together and start loving on each other. Furreal.”
“Who would do that to a pastor? And in our community? They must be from out-of-town!”
“Hey, maybe this wasn’t a negative thing. Has anyone talked to the pastor?”
“What do you know? We got looting and police and TP shortages. You should challenge the political narrative and stand up for what’s right! It’s time to act!”
“[Fist in the air.]”
Or maybe it’s a chance to learn something.
The same neighbor who had come over to help had started the thread. I had assumed she understood, and so had she, but we had both understood the TP incident differently. So between a couple visits back and forth, we tried to fill in the gap of what we had assumed. A house getting TP’d is not necessarily a bad thing, and might be a gift of love, and for me, ranks among the greatest honors I’ve ever received. I’m only half kidding.
My newly-met neighbor dealt with the post and later come over to our house to talk. She pointed out that in her community, wasting TP in this manner is not a thing. Online comments suggested that some cultural wire-crossing was going on. In fact, as I look back, the reactions from people in cars and online correlated with skin tone.
Now wait a minute, here I was writing a lighter post and I got to get all race-conscious on you? Because taking simple things more seriously is going to help us?! Have mercy.
Well, I didn’t expect it either, and neither did the neighbor. But even the simple things should be taken just seriously enough to hold human meaning. If we can’t even do that, then we run the opposite risk of taking things too seriously. That tends to reinforce a status quo in which we can’t address the real issues because all we feel is threatened. Not being wrong then becomes our shield, and such a defense stunts our maturity. We get too busy being right to act righteously. I’m so glad my neighbor came over. Twice. I’m wondering if she’s been trained in righteousness. She was determined to understand.
“Oh, that was positive? I didn’t know what to think.”
“Yeah, when I was in high school, my friends and I… [paragraphs edited].”
“Wow. If I wasted toilet paper when I was young, I got a whooping. That’s just not a thing in the black community.”
“And I guess I haven’t seen TP’ing in urban areas either. I never thought about it that way before. It’s kind of a white suburban thing, isn’t it?”
“Seems so. Well, I replied to my own post and then took it down to spare people the trouble.”
So it was that in just one morning, she and I had traveled rather more than the distance between our houses. Now we know their names, and they know ours. We wouldn’t have if she hadn’t come over. I think we may even be family in Christ.
The next week, I verified matters with our church secretary.
“… so it became this big to-do, but the neighbor and I worked it out. She was great.”
“Was she black?”
“Of course, ‘cause my people, we know toilet paper is expensive. Plus, she said, ‘whooping.’ We don’t mess around. But I’ve heard that such things like TP’ing happen.”
We had a good laugh.
In troubled times, it’s not just that we must continue to learn. Even better, we can choose to relate. That’s not an easy choice when our chronic anxiety makes us believe that we are helpless. Seeming helplessness is one of evil’s big plays to degrade human value by eroding the relationships that trade on that value. But if we believe ourselves secure in what really matters, then we are able to relate despite tension and in our shared standing before our Creator. In that case, we’re not helpless at all. Our help is in the Name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, a laugher with us at good pranks.