Can I really make it happen?
With the ok from the city Edna drew up some plans and a list of materials. She posted both on the chain-link fence bordering the vacant lot next to her apartment building.
She taught at the school on the other side of the lot. The commute was great, but the neighborhood wasn’t. I don’t want Chance to become one of those kids who hang around dealing drugs in the shadows of that lot next door…
Edna was pregnant with Chance when she lost her husband, Chad, on 9/11 five years before. She wanted to do something special to commemorate the anniversary.
And so on that crisp September morning Edna and Paul, her school’s custodian, swept the asphalt lot. Her principal, Sister Grace, had asked Paul to help Edna and he was happy to oblige. Sister Grace also sent the kids to help during physical education and art classes.
As they finished sweeping, Edna saw two young men approaching them from opposite sides of the street. Everyone knew who those two were. They had brought jackhammers. Edna was afraid to ask where they got them.
She set them to work – on opposite corners of the lot. They were the leaders of rival gangs. At first Blackie and Red seemed to be competing with each other. They worked fast and furious, each trying to out-do the other. It was hard labor, breaking up the pavement and hauling it into the bed of Paul’s old pickup truck. But a park needs green space.
While the boys worked, Edna painstakingly reproduced a labyrinth design in the middle of the pavement. The chalk outline was enormous. She ran upstairs to her apartment window to make sure it looked just right.
Edna hoped to get pedometers so the kids could walk the labyrinth during gym class. It could also be used by the peer mediation team for anger management. Why is there so much anger in the world?
Paul had picked up some surplus exterior paint at the local dump. Edna gave each art student a bucket and a brush and told them to try to stay in the chalk lines. It might actually look 'hip' with all those colors. And it’s such a great project for the kids.
A construction worker showed up with some leftover wood from a deck he’d just replaced. It was perfect for the corner Red was clearing. Edna envisioned raised vegetable gardens there next spring. It would be great for the neighborhood – and the science classes at school. And everyone could contribute by tending the garden beds.
Then a landscaper showed up with some trees. Those went in Blackie’s corner and along the front of the lot. Edna had them plant the evergreen near the entrance to the park. She imagined it all lit up at Christmas time.
A man drove up towing a large over-sized trailer. “Hello there. I’m Brent. I heard about what y’all are trying to do over here. We just replaced our school’s jungle gym. Could you use this stuff?”
Edna grinned. “It’s perfect!”
Paul and Brent installed the basketball hoop. The kids helped paint court lines on the pavement in that back corner. The men set up the old jungle gym in the other back corner.
Blackie and Red began working together; hauling away the bigger pieces of asphalt and helping the men plant the larger trees. Some neighbors brought food and drinks for the workers.
Everything was really coming together. I can almost feel Chad watching…
The kids painted themselves almost as much as the labyrinth, but the jumble of colors on the path was just right for their diverse neighborhood.
Edna was the first to walk the completed path, in silence. When she reached the center she said, “Thank you all so much! Each of you helped make this beautiful park a reality.” Everyone applauded.
Sister Grace said the labyrinth was a perfect walking meditation, “And long enough to say the Rosary. The religion classes may make use of it, too.” She also rescinded Red’s and Blackie’s expulsion from school for past misdeeds. “See you at school Mrs. P!” the boys called to Edna as they left together.
Brent walked Edna and Chance home. What a nice man…
Chance looked down at the park after his bed-time prayers. “Hey Mom, the labyrinth really looks like a giant peace sign from up here!”
Edna smiled. “Why do you think we’re calling it Peace Park?”
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