We are all bodies with needs

A few days ago, I started my period. This was insignificant in the big picture of my life—I’m 48 (!) and have been getting my period (roughly) every 28 days for 34 years—but significant to the coming week: my periods tend to be long and heavy and accompanied by debilitating migraines.

My period is one way that I mark time (as in, “Damnit, again?!”), so when my monthly visitor returned (uninvited) in the midst of a global crisis, it somehow felt unfair. At a time when almost everything else has been canceled,* periods persist?!

Yesterday morning (day three), I listened to a podcast while preparing (read: popping migraine meds and fortifying my menstrual cup with period underwear) to teach my class. The episode topic was disability justice, and the entire discussion was instructive. But as the conversation was wrapping up, one of the guests said something that grabbed my attention. For context, this was her full comment.

“And one of the things that it makes me think about … is the reality that we’re all in bodies. You know, it’s not like we’re just abstract thinkers that are somehow leaving our existences outside the door. All of us are always in our bodies, engaging with each other. And all bodies are valuable, and all bodies have needs and strengths and desires. And oftentimes, it’s expected that our needs get kind of left at the door somehow, which is impossible. And all of us have a variety of needs.”

Patty Berne on Irresistible podcast, “Organizing in a Pandemic: Disability Justice Wisdom

What I heard was this: We are all (all of us, not just those society defines as disabled) bodies with needs. We cannot separate ourselves from our bodies’ needs.

Soon after absorbing this wisdom, I logged in to Zoom and managed my 90 minute class—including the logistics of connecting a guest speaker—while bleeding heavily and fighting a headache.

This was hardly remarkable. Some variation of that scenario has been my reality (and, likely, the reality of untold numbers of people who menstruate) through hundreds of periods. But for the first time, I saw it differently. I realized that I was ignoring my body and its pressing needs in order to get stuff done.

Throughout my life, I have ignored (or hidden) my body’s needs again and again. Some examples:

  • Struggling through school and work in an achy, sleep-deprived fog in the early years of my period, when excruciating cramps kept me awake all night
  • Ruining numerous pairs of pants when I taught high school, because–period or not–I couldn’t find time to use the bathroom between classes
  • Commuting 15 miles (two buses plus lots of walking) to work and working full days during my first pregnancy, despite being exhausted and nauseous every moment of every day
  • Busing to Mercer Island on weekday evenings for Regional Transit Task Force meetings when my youngest was still a newborn, struggling to participate in the three-hour discussions while my breasts filled with milk and my arms ached for my baby
  • Lying under my desk in the shared workspace at the nonprofit I worked for, hoping my migraine would subside before my next appointment (usually a donor I was supposed to ask for money) arrived

I realize now that I have always carried shame about my body’s inconvenient needs, especially when those needs were related to menstruation or reproduction. It never occurred to me that I was actually pretty freaking amazing to manage work and life despite significant physical discomfort and logistical challenges. It certainly never occurred to me that it was OK to miss school or work for my period, or to cancel a meeting because of morning sickness or a migraine.

When my youngest was a week old, my spouse returned to work. I was fortunate to be able to stay home with the baby while I continued with regular life: writing my column, caring for our two-year old, and managing the household.

One day, when I was out and about with my newborn strapped to my chest and my toddler in a stroller, I ran into an elder friend who had raised her children in her home country of Eritrea. My friend told me that in her culture, when a woman has a baby, mother and baby “go to bed,” as she put it, for some months.** The mother’s extended community handles everything, and her only jobs are to rest and feed and nurture her new baby.

I remember aching with longing as she described this way of being, wishing for all the world that I could take my exhausted, sleep-deprived self “to bed” with my baby.

There are so many reasons this wouldn’t happen in the U.S. (one being that few of us have an extended community that would—or could—support us in that way), but one of the most important is capitalism. Our culture doesn’t value wellness, or bonding, or rest, because those things aren’t profitable. And because we live in a patriarchal society, we don’t value work that is traditionally performed by women.

I wish I could nurture my previous selves, tell them it’s OK to rest, that there’s nothing shameful about having a body with needs, that you don’t have to push, to deny, to “keep up” with everyone who seems to be managing it all better than you.***

Since I can’t do that, I will do my best to nurture my current self and to change the culture I’m a part of. I will rest when I am tired or sick. I will honor the rhythms of my body. I will remind myself and my children that there is nothing shameful about needing care, or medication, or accommodation, or extra time. And there is nothing abnormal or embarrassing about having a body that bleeds every month.

I will focus on others’ humanity instead of their output. I will encourage students and colleagues and community partners to listen to their bodies instead of sacrificing them to the religion of “productivity.” I will stand in the gap when I am able, trusting that others will do the same for me when I am not.

May all of us embody the care, peace, and rest that this moment demands.

Ase.

“Our bodies are a site of liberation.” – The Nap Ministry

* And speaking of … One day soon, I’ll write about how much I’m missing the bus in this new reality, but I’m not ready yet.

** I don’t remember anymore how long she said this period of time was. I think it was three months, but it could have been one.

*** Except you sort of do, if you want to pay your freaking rent. But whatever.

Shelter and safety for everyone

I met my friend Lawrence* because he lives in my neighborhood, and I know—at least by sight—most people who live in my neighborhood. Lawrence and I frequent the same bus stops and walk many of the same routes. After crossing paths numerous times, we officially introduced ourselves. Eventually, we became friends.

Lawrence has lived in Seattle for his entire life. Because he can no longer afford housing, he now lives in his van, which, as far as I can tell, isn’t running. The front windshield is smashed, and at least one of the tires is flat. Lawrence often needs money for propane, so he can keep warm at night. Like me, he suffers from a condition called Raynaud’s Syndrome, which causes pain and numbness in the hands and feet during even mildly cold weather. He also has arthritis.

I worry about everyone in our city who is unhoused. I especially worry for those people whose faces and names I know, people I have formed bonds with. Every single night, I worry about Lawrence.

Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Lawrence and I exchanged numbers. I told him to call me in case of emergency, like if he was out of propane, or just needed someone to help him problem-solve. About a week later (around the same time our region was beginning to understand the seriousness of coronavirus), I decided I could no longer live with the idea of him suffering on the floor of his van night after night. I texted to ask if he’d like to spend a few days in a hotel. He said yes.

I chose the Best Western Pioneer Square because I know someone who has stayed there several times and liked it. It is a fairly short bus ride from our neighborhood, is clean and comfortable, and includes a hearty breakfast. I called to make a reservation, then took the 27 to the hotel to provide my credit card and give them Lawrence’s information.

As I waited in line, the hotel staff were very busy, answering calls from people canceling reservations and helping guests check out early. It occurred to me that the fallout from this pandemic had created an opportunity for an emergent strategy of sorts. Hotels were losing business and would soon be empty. Unhoused people are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. What if we, concerned citizens of Seattle (and every city), pooled our resources to rent newly cheap hotel rooms for our homeless neighbors?

When it was my turn to register, I attempted to provide the hotel with some information about Lawrence, who, not surprisingly, isn’t as clean or neatly dressed as someone with access to shelter. I struggled with whether I should say something; I didn’t want to violate his privacy. On the other hand, as a person of color, I know for sure that disparate treatment happens. Lawrence is both homeless and a person of color, so I wanted to make sure that he didn’t experience any hassles when he arrived to check in.

I said, “This room is for my neighbor. He’s fallen on some hard times and is living in his van, and I just want to ensure that he will be treated with dignity.”

The person who was helping me leaned forward and widened her eyes. “Are you saying that he’s HOMELESS?”

I said, yes, that’s what I was saying. She said that the hotel doesn’t “do” homeless.

I should have left immediately, but I felt pressed. I had already given Lawrence the hotel’s information, and it wasn’t always easy to reach him. I had to help another neighbor with childcare (back when we were still allowed to do that) in less than an hour.

So, I pushed back. I said the room was paid for, Lawrence was a human being, and the hotel’s policy amounted to discrimination. She doubled down on the discrimination and asked me to assure her that there wouldn’t be any drug use.

Finally, after conferring with a coworker, she agreed to let Lawrence stay. I reserved the room for three nights.

On the third night, I decided that I could probably swing at least one more. Nighttime lows were still in the 30s, and I hated to imagine Lawrence back in his van under those conditions. I called the hotel to extend. The person who answered the phone cheerfully looked up my reservation. But as soon as her computer retrieved it, she said, “I’m sorry. I’m not going to be able to extend this reservation.”

I asked if I needed to come in and present my credit card again. She put me on hold. A moment later, a manager picked up. “We’re not going to extend this reservation,” he snapped. “If the guest can’t afford the room, then he shouldn’t be staying here.”

Lawrence is now back in his van. Everything is closed—libraries, community centers, coffee shops, every public space—so his van is the only place for him to be. I don’t see him very often these days, because I rarely leave my home. But sometimes, when I am out for fresh air, I see him walking to the store to buy water; he has no access to plumbing. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about how likely it is that he’s able to wash his hands at all—let alone frequently.

Even though we had a bad experience with the Best Western Pioneer Square, I’m still convinced that the idea—to provide guests for empty hotels and safe housing for those in our community who are most vulnerable right now—is a good one. Certainly, there are independently owned hotels that are on the verge of closing completely that would welcome a steady source of income.

All of us are threatened by this virus, and all of us are suffering from the havoc it has wreaked on our communities. Think about how you’re feeling right now—how lonely, fearful, and uncertain. Imagine spending every hour of every day uncomfortable, with no distractions, no people out on the street to help you with a few dollars, feeling abandoned and desperate AND scared of getting sick.

As we do everything we can to keep ourselves healthy and financially afloat, we can’t forget our unhoused neighbors. We as a community need to offer them more than “socially distanced” mass shelters. One obvious, short-term solution is for the city to rent rooms in empty hotels (owned by compassionate, openminded people) so that everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, can stay safe—and as comfortable as possible—during this challenging time.

Can we find the will and focus to make this happen?

Image description: people holding a sign that says, “Housing is a human right.”


*Not his real name, which is much more awesome

Southbound 60, 12:25 p.m.

Two high school students are sitting behind me, discussing the week ahead.

HS student #1: “Look at all these babysitting jobs on my calendar. That’s why I don’t have a social life—because I’m always babysitting these damn kids.”

HS student #2: “I don’t have a social life because … Asian parents.”

Spiritual lessons I learned on the bus

For as long as I can remember, the bus has been a part of my life. At certain times, it has loomed large, like when I was eight years old, riding across town by myself and feeling like someone who could be trusted with responsibility.

Or when I was 21 and couldn’t afford a reliable car but needed to get to work and school and wherever else I was going back then.

Or when I was 31 and decided to give up the car I could finally comfortably afford to become a born-again bus rider.

Now, I am 47. I have been living without a car for 16 years. The bus is still a big part of my life, but it doesn’t have the same surface importance. It is always there, facilitating my life—cherished, but not so much in the forefront of my awareness as a Really Great Transportation Option. My appreciation has moved to a deeper place.

I have always know that buses connect us by providing opportunities to share space, experiences, and conversation. I am just beginning to learn that riding the bus, if you are open and humble enough to accept the lessons it offers, can be a spiritual practice. This is true whether you love the bus or hate it. Maybe especially if you hate it.

Here are some of the spiritual lessons I have learned from my longtime love.

Practice surrender.
More often than I would like, I have to wait a long time for my bus. Sometimes this happens when I am in a hurry, or managing children (though mine don’t need much bus-stop management these days), or exhausted. Sometimes, it happens when it is raining, and there is no shelter at the stop. Sometimes (oftentimes), it happens when I am feeling impatient: wanting to be in motion, in progress, on the way already.

Occasionally, in those moments, when I feel the urge to pace, or check my phone, or pull out my book or to-do list to “kill time,” I decide instead to surrender. Surrender to being “bored,” to getting wet, to maybe even being late, and just accept the moment for what it is.

Surrendering can mean engaging in an interesting or deep or silly conversation with my kids or spouse. It can mean taking a breath and paying attention to my surroundings. Or it can mean squeezing everyone under one tiny umbrella and resigning myself to wet socks.

We don’t control when the bus comes, and we don’t control the conditions under which we are forced to wait. We do control what we do with the moments we spend at the stop.

Practice hope.
About five years ago, I had to attend an evening political meeting for work. By the time the meeting was over, it was close to 9 p.m., and I was in a hurry to get home. Back then, I didn’t have a smart phone, so I headed straight for the bus stop—which was several blocks away and in an isolated area—without checking a schedule.

I was a block and a half (plus a street crossing) from the stop when the bus pulled up. I knew that even if I ran as hard as a could, there was no way I was going to catch it. But I was so desperate to get home, so motivated to NOT have to stand at that deserted, dark stop for 30+ minutes until the next bus arrived, I decided to run for it anyway.

It was not a pretty run. I didn’t have on the best shoes. My bag and papers and meeting clothes (and, ahem, body parts) were flapping and bouncing all over the place as I stumbled along at my highest speed, fully expecting the bus to pull away before I even came close.

The bus stayed put.

I kept running. The bus kept staying.

By the time I made it to the stop, out of breath and disheveled, the bus was still there. I didn’t then and don’t now have any idea why.

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter.

When you run for the bus, you don’t know what might happen. Maybe (probably) you won’t make it. But maybe there’s a wheelchair that needs to be buckled in. Maybe someone will ask the driver for directions. Maybe a passenger will see you and ask the driver to wait. Maybe the stop is a time point, and the bus is a minute early.

You don’t have to worry about any of that. The only thing you have to do is run as hard as you can until the bus drives away.

Or, until you catch it.

Be curious.
I have the type of brain that likes to judge, label, and categorize. I’m an observant person, so I tend to notice patterns. My guilty pleasure is to sit with my spouse and categorize and label all the different people we encounter—on the bus and otherwise.

But every time I get curious and try to see the person behind whatever label I’ve attached, I learn. The more I practice this, the better I get at it, and the more often I remember:

We all love. We all suffer. Most of us are doing the best we can.

Judgments and assumptions isolate us from the people we encounter every day. Curiosity brings a richness to our interactions. It shines a light on others’ humanity. And it strengthens our own.

Don’t take it personally.
I often say that the best thing about the bus is being surrounded by other people. And, the worst thing about the bus is being surrounded by other people.

Sharing a ride with the people you share the world with can ground you in your community, help you feel less alone, and deepen your empathy.

It can also be annoying as hell.

Over the years, I have (semi-)regularly been cut in line, pushed aside, propositioned, called names, and interrogated about my ethnic identity. And don’t get me started on the bus fouls I’ve witnessed!

What I’ve slowly come to learn is that strangers’ behavior towards me is not about me. (How could it be? They don’t even know me.) Their rudeness is about their own issues and whatever they are going through in the moment.

I can set boundaries (a la Chicklet, who is a pro) or respectfully ask for what I need (for example, a seat, if someone has their bag on one), without taking the behavior personally or letting it affect my own mood.

Take it personally.
Just because a person’s bad behavior is a reflection of their own issues doesn’t mean that we can (or should) accept it. If someone is being harassed, and you are in a position to help, you should help.

Look for the beauty.
Everyone who’s ever been on a bus knows that it isn’t always pretty. But I know that it is always beautiful.

By way of explanation, I offer these recent tweets.

Finally—and always:

Breathe.

Unless, of course, that would be a bad idea.

Noticing is my new religion

After a few years of planting saplings in our woods, my crew has leveled up. These days, we’re collecting pine cones and trying to grow trees from the seeds. The results have been mixed (OK, we’re failing), but the process has felt like a revelation.

How has taken me 46 years to recognize the miracle of a pine seed?

It has never been hard for me to appreciate the majesty of The Mountain. Or the ocean. Or a vast forest. But somehow, I never noticed that a seed is all of that, an entire world, packed into a tiny spec.

And it’s not just the seeds. As I come to terms with the deep brokenness of the big picture, I’m starting to notice small miracles all around me. In the thank you card from my five-year old niece. In her baby sister’s wrist rolls. In the water that runs from my eyes as I chop onions for soup.

In all of the human hands and all of the earth’s gifts that made it possible for me to bake my Chicklet’s 11th birthday cake. In walking to dance class in the twilight.

In twilight.

In watching my 3rd grader fall asleep to the sound of my heartbeat.

In earthworms. Slugs. Sword ferns. Spider webs.

In waking up on this day.

 

God at the bus stop, part II

Last Thursday, I barely missed the 8 on my way home from an errand and so found myself alone at a bus stop, loaded down with potting soil and live plants and with a decent wait ahead of me. It was one of those close-to-the-road stops with no shelter or bench or trash can, only a damp ledge in front of a nearby apartment building. I dropped my load and sat on that ledge, feeling restless and ready to get on with my day.

But on this particular Thursday, I decided to push through the restlessness. To not sink into a book or my phone or some other distraction to “kill” the 12 minutes OneBusAway told me I’d be there. Instead, I sat on the ledge and waited.

It’s October, so the trees were showing off, alive with that fleeting explosion of color that always feels like magic. The leaves were falling, not in big clouds like they do on windy days, but one at a time. The maple tree closest to my ledge released each leaf gently, like a mama bird pushing her baby out of the nest. I felt like I was part of something sacred as I watched each one drift to the dirty street.

Those twelve minutes I spent waiting have as much to do with why I ride as the extra time to read and connections with fellow humans. After all these years, my life on the bus continues to transform me. It reminds me that I am not in control, even if these days the waits are shorter and we have tools that can tell us just how long those waits will be. It teaches me to cherish the moments life offers me to simply be still.

And watch a bright orange leaf sail into the gutter.

A woman’s body is not public space

I started riding the bus alone at eight years old, younger than was common in 1980, and most certainly younger than is common in 2018. My initial solo bus trips were to school and involved a transfer downtown. After a few months of practice, I started branching out: riding to local stores, to my grandma’s apartment, to doctor’s appointments, even on adventures with my siblings. Even though at eight I was a bit on the shy side and pretty risk averse (OK, I still am), I never felt any reservations about taking the bus alone. I was confident in my abilities and proud that I could get around the city on my own.

Ironically, it was at around 14, an age when it is common to move through the world without the assistance of an adult, when I started feeling afraid to travel alone. This was the age when my body started to look like a woman’s body and, consequently, the age I first began to experience street harassment. My parents had prepared me well for the logistics of traveling by bus, but no one prepared me for life on the street as a woman.

Groping happened rarely, but leering and yelling were near constant. Back then, I didn’t know how to respond to the shouted comments about my body, the insults, the lewd jokes at my expense. I would cross the street to avoid encountering groups of men and hold my breath every time I passed a construction site. I would smile politely when disrespectful strangers pressed their phone numbers into my hand, because it didn’t take long to figure out that saying no to a man who feels entitled to your attention can activate rage. When men grabbed my arm, I would pull it away and keep walking (faster, and without turning back), so busy feeling scared and intimidated that it never even occurred to me to be angry.

But I’m angry now. Angry that experiencing this type of harassment so early in my womanhood changed the way I viewed myself and my right to move through the world. Angry that, when I was considering giving up my car 15 years ago, what gave me the most pause was not the logistics of how I would get where I needed to go, but the prospect of being on the street outside of normal business hours. Angry that my daughter, who will turn 11 in exactly one month, will soon face the same abuse I did as she ventures out on her own.

Even now, at several years past 40 (and mostly past the street harassment period of life), I regularly constrain my movements because of my gender. I repeat: I, a grown-ass strong, intelligent, capable, adult, regularly constrain the way I move through my city because of my gender. This is true for every woman I know, but, because I get around by bus, it’s especially true for me.

It goes without saying (but I’m gonna say it, just to be sure it’s clear) that harassment is not unique to public transportation. It’s a cultural problem that manifests itself in every corner of our society. (Ahem.) But the particular problem of street harassment happens more often to women who spend more time walking and standing outside. And yes, to women who share space with men on buses and trains.

Public transportation represents freedom. It provides mobility for everyone, regardless of age or ability or economic status. But women and girls will never be truly free to use transit until they no longer have to contend with abuse every time they walk outside.

Public transportation offers us the gift of contact with our community. But we cannot expect young women to embrace (or even tolerate) contact that is often demeaning and is sometimes threatening.

Public transportation, like any public good, is only as healthy as the culture it is a part of. If we want women and girls to embrace life on the ground, then we must pay as much attention to the misogyny that pervades our culture as we do to travel times and vehicle design.

Foster kids don’t need “saving”; they need strong communities

May is Foster Care Awareness Month, a time when we commit (or recommit) to understanding the conditions and needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens. But beyond educating ourselves, what can we do to help?

This is the part where I’m supposed to encourage you, dear reader, to become a foster parent, to “be there for a child” or “change a life.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

I don’t mean to be glib. In some ways, it really is that simple: A child needs a safe, loving home, and an adult (or adults) with the desire to parent steps up to provide it. But to truly show up for our kids, we need to do much, much more.

I was a foster parent in 2014/15. The experience was transformative for me. It taught me more about love than anything else I’ve ever done or been through. Yes, it was hard. Yes, it was messy and exhausting and it required me to stretch in ways I didn’t feel ready to. But the emotional toll, the love and loss – and yes, occasional drama – were human experiences that deepened my compassion and helped me grow. Interacting with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services was the exact opposite.

Here’s the thing: I believe in caring for children in need, in making room in our homes and hearts and learning what it means to love someone — not with a particular outcome in mind, but just for the sake of it. I believe in the overused aphorism “it takes a village to raise a child” all the way to my core. These beliefs are what drew me to foster care. But to be a foster parent, you must participate in the foster system. And the foster system is deeply, deeply flawed.

And it’s no wonder. Our child welfare system is only as healthy as the culture it has grown out of, and – despite the “family values” rhetoric of some politicians — our culture does not prioritize families. Instead we prioritize profit, allowing “the market” to dictate who has access to human necessities like food, shelter, health care, and education.

Kids are placed in foster care when their families of origin are unable to care for them. In about 35% of cases, this is due to physical or sexual abuse. In the other 65%, it is because of neglect, which can happen for all kinds of reasons. Some parents struggle with addiction; others simply lack the resources to meet their children’s material needs or provide the supervision our culture currently deems appropriate. (We must remember that norms for supervision are extremely contextual and also that our current expectations require time and money that many – perhaps even most – families do not have.)

Child welfare systems across the US have a history of harming people of color — in particular, African American and Native American families. This harm has happened in egregious and obvious ways — Native American boarding schools, for example — and in subtle, insidious ways, such as the overrepresentation of children of color in foster care. In Washington State, Black and Native American children are removed from their families of origin at higher rates than white children, even when their living conditions are the same or similar. (And, of course, families of color are also disproportionately harmed by other systems, which makes them more likely to have contact with the child welfare system in the first place.)

Foster care, like many other critical services in Washington State, is underfunded. Social workers have more cases than they can handle and not enough resources to provide essential services. This means that even dedicated and well intentioned social workers will not have enough time or context to make informed decisions about what is best for a child’s future, and even when they do, they will not have the ability to meet every child’s needs.

So yes, we should show up for kids right now, as foster parents and mentors and even perhaps as social workers. (People of color, it’s especially important for us to show up.) But we must understand that serving the system as-is will not create the wholeness we are seeking for our children. We also must be willing to do the harder work of building a society that truly supports their well-being.

The best thing we can do for children is to sustain the families they were born to. This means we must build a society that prioritizes people, where living wage jobs, health care, child care, housing, accessible transportation, safe streets, and humane schools are available to all. We also must work to strengthen our communities, so that families have healthy social connections and can rely on support from friends and neighbors for short term needs or in the event of a crisis.

We must address the racism that is inherent in our child welfare system –- and all of our systems. This means that we must first acknowledge the harm that was caused in the past. We must look with clear eyes at the ways white supremacy and racial bias continue to influence the outcomes we see today. Then, we must commit to changing those outcomes.

And finally, we must fully fund agencies that are tasked with caring for people, particularly agencies involved in the foster system. Because when the state takes the monumental action of removing a child from her family of origin, the state is morally obligated to provide that child the safety and resources she needs to thrive.

Remember, Episode 8 – Elmer Dixon: All Power to the People

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party. I recently interviewed Elmer Dixon, one of the founding members of the Seattle Panthers, about the party’s work in the community and as a community — and about how his experience as a Black Panther continues to inform his life today. I hope you enjoy our conversation, and if you’re in Seattle, I hope you attend one (or more) of the many commemorative events happening this week.

All power to the people!

What we’ve lost

I live in a gentrified neighborhood. The Central District was once the heart of Seattle’s Black community. Now, skyrocketing housing costs and rising property taxes have pushed all but a very small number of Black folks out of the neighborhood. The circumstances that led to displacement in the Central District are not unique, but the community was. And what has been lost can never be replaced.

As a (mixed) Black person who can afford to live here, as someone who did not grow up in this community but who is the daughter of a man who started his life mere blocks from where I now live and the granddaughter of a woman who lived here for a good portion of my childhood, my relationship to the changes is complicated. I am angry and sad about the loss of longtime residents and of this neighborhood’s identity as a black community, but I also understand that I am only here because of my own privilege. And I recognize my status as a relative newcomer, having purchased my first home here after prices had already risen beyond the reach of many longtime residents.

But this post isn’t about my complicated relationship to my neighborhood. (That post is coming; I only need another decade or so to process all of my thoughts and feelings.) It is about the community’s most recent loss.

The Promenade Red Apple Market, my neighborhood grocery store, closed in September. The property the store was leasing was purchased by a developer, and that developer’s vision did not include Red Apple. The store sat empty for several months after its last day of operation. Then, last month, the bulldozers came.

The loss has been difficult logistically for our family because there is no longer a grocery store within walking distance of our home. But it has been much more difficult emotionally. It seems strange to say, but I am in mourning.

I’ve shopped at the Promenade Red Apple regularly for 15 years (and occasionally for even longer). In those years, I have visited the store close to 2,000 times. Red Apple wasn’t perfect. The many customers who walked to the store were forced to cross a giant parking lot that was at least as big as the store — and never more than half full — to reach the front door. Prices were (understandably) higher than you would find at a large chain. The produce wasn’t always the best quality.

But Red Apple was much more than a grocery store; it was a part of the community, a place where people felt seen and known and valued.

The management and staff of Red Apple showed that they valued people by the products they chose to stock, continuing to carry foods that are culturally significant to Black folks long after the demographics of the neighborhood had shifted.

They showed that they valued people by the atmosphere they created, playing “the best soul music in the city” in the aisles at all times, elevating even a quick trip for a few forgotten ingredients into a spontaneous dance party.

They showed that they valued people by affirming our dignity, allowing anyone to use the restroom or come inside to warm up or cool off.

They showed that they valued people by asking about our days and asking after our loved ones.

They showed that they valued people by celebrating with us, hosting holiday parties and Easter egg hunts and backpack giveaways year after year after year.

The plans for the new development look lovely. There will be better pedestrian access and new apartments and even (if the early designs are followed) some sort of outdoor plaza. More housing in a city facing an extreme housing shortage, a built environment that makes walking safer and gathering with others easier — these are important improvements.

Except.

Except accessible design does not make a place accessible. And physical beauty is not the same as soul.

The new apartments will be unaffordable to all but the very wealthiest slice of this city. The new stores will likely be as well. If history is any guide, gathering will be restricted to those who are perceived to belong.

If there’s a grocery store in the new development, it will surely have perfect produce and squeaky clean floors and plenty of selection. But I’m guessing it won’t carry pig feet or turkey necks. And I know for sure it won’t host a holiday party where customers can do the Cupid Shuffle with Santa.