Take a look out the window – !

A few weeks ago I watched an online video about a woman who, from her front window, waved to the high school students who walked past her house day after day, morning and afternoon. Because they were accustomed to her being at the window, the young people waved back. After years of this interchange, the students invited their friend – a woman in her 90’s! – to their school to honor her.

Take a look out the window!

In some neighborhoods in most cities, people are afraid to look out their windows. That’s hard for me to imagine, and maybe it is for you, too. But it’s true. Folks are afraid to look out their windows because they might be seen by the crack dealer who walks the street, the crack dealer who carries a gun. Folks are afraid to look out their windows because they are afraid to be called as witnesses to the crime that is living in the streets.

That can happen to any of us. Unless we take a few moments today to look out our windows, to see what is happening on the street, to witness who is passing by, or to see who is missing today, we’ll lose control of our communities.

Over the past several months, students from a nearby high school have taken to climbing up the hill from the main drag that runs through this part of the city, to walking across the quiet street that leads to a cul de sac, and to sitting on the wall that marks the edge of my yard. I took a look at the kids as I parked my car, making sure they noticed me, as I had noticed them. When I came into the house, I went over to the window that looks out onto the wall. There they have gathered, talking, laughing, playing music. They look like young kids to me, and they look like kids just young enough to pay attention to adults.

That day, I opened the window and told them that this is private property. They looked up at me – ! – and answered politely that they weren’t harming anything. But I wanted them to know I’d noticed. A few minutes later, I heard a loud “pop!”, and laughter. Again I opened the window, but this time, in a firmer voice, I told them they’d have to go. When they didn’t leave, I opened the window a third time and told them I’d call the police if they didn’t leave.

Wow! young people can certainly run fast! I saw about 7 or 8 kids go running back across the street and down the hill onto the sidewalk of the main drag! Whew! That didn’t take much!

I know I’m just another old person to those kids. Anyone over 30 is old to them, after all! But I also know that I’m doing my best to keep my own community safe. I can’t do that alone. I need other well-meaning folks to keep an eye on the street, like I do. I need other kind people to point out clear boundaries to young people who are simply doing what young people do – hanging out together, maybe skipping afternoon classes.

When I was in junior high at Peckham (now Jackie Robinson) Junior High School in Milwaukee, I lived in an upper flat on Medford Avenue. I walked the mile to school, morning and afternoon. My parents rented that flat from Mrs. Schmidt, a widow who seemed very old to me at the time. Every day when I walked up the driveway next to the house to the back door and into the narrow hallway to take the steps to the second floor, I saw Mrs. Schmidt sitting in her chair by the front room window. Recognizing me, she waved – every single day.

I think adults weren’t as leery of young people those days as we are now. But Mrs. Schmidt was keeping watch, in her own way, of who walked up the driveway. One time she knocked menacingly on the window when my friend Sharon came to see me; later, my mother told Mrs. Schmidt that Sharon was the daughter of the Baptist minister, and Mrs. Schmidt didn’t try to motion her away again!

Sometimes we do what’s right, and sometimes we don’t do what’s right. How do we ever know for sure? At the very least, take a look out the window – today!

“All stories are true.” – Ibo proverb



about-storytellers“All stories are true.”

There is great power in stories. This is basic to the human experience. When we think of stories being told, the image of ancient peoples sitting in a circle around a fire comes to mind.  Perhaps the gift of one person in the ancient community was the gift of story-telling, and so they were designated to tell the story of the community. The story brought the people together, and the telling of the story brought the people together with their ancestors, their history, and to their unconscious connections to past, present, and even future.

We still tell stories. Something in us wants to tell stories, and so we do. How often have we told one another where we were and how we heard about the events of 9/11, when the story of our nation in this post-modern era was forever changed?  Why do we turn on the evening news, except to hear the story of the day, a story to which we are connected, like it or not?

What story of your own do you tell, again and again? What is the story of your life you would tell at this moment, at this time?

There is great power in stories. To heal from trauma, we must tell someone our story. Sometimes the details of the story change, but the story must be told, over and over and over again, to release the trauma. It is our need to tell the story. It is also our need to find someone who is safe to be the recipient of the story.  When we are grieving, we need to tell the story of our grief, of our loss, of our troubles.

We need to speak our story to someone, to a community, that is safe.

Who is safe? Well, I can say who is not safe. Someone who interrupts to insert their own opinions or their own story, is not safe. Someone who wants to give advice is not safe. Someone who wants to change our story for reasons of their own is not safe. Someone who has an interest in keeping us trapped in our story is not safe.  Sometimes our closest friends are not safe.  Maybe we need to find others to listen, other friends, who are safe.

Certainly, someone who does not honor the importance and the privilege of hearing our story is not safe.  Do not share your story with someone who cannot be trusted to keep the story safe, safe from telling others, safe from gossiping about your story.  You are the keeper of your story, and as the keeper, it is your responsibility to care for your story, as you would a child, keeping the story safe from those who will abuse the story.  You are responsible for your story.

There is great power in stories, and stories must be told. Our healing is in the telling.

Sometimes, stories need to be told again and again until their true kernel is discovered, through the telling of the story. Sometimes, we tell the story over and over again, as if we are turning a beautiful, rough rock in our hands, looking at it from many angles. We feel it, we sense it, we see it, we run our fingers over it. And so it is with the telling and the re-telling of our stories.

“All stories are true.” The details of a story are not often true. We see this in ancient scriptures, when sometimes the same story is told in many versions, from chapter to chapter, book to book. The details change. But the power of the story remains.

How often have you heard someone you love tell a story, and as you listen, you realize that the story – which you have certainly heard many times before! – is being told for a certain effect: to impress, to remember, to grieve, to instill with a particular meaning. And so you have witnessed, you have known that the details are not always true, but the story remains, the story is true.

What is your story? Who will you honor by telling your story? Choose carefully! Choose someone who is safe to hear your story! Choose someone who will honor your story – honor you – by listening, quietly, with great presence, with respect. Choose someone who will not degrade your story by telling it to others as gossip, as if the story was not rich and important. Your story – whatever it is! – is your richest gift to the world.

When you tell your story, you begin to see yourself in new ways. When you tell your story, you see the empty places, the things that are missing. You see the characters in the story, and you see who has had power in your story. As time goes on, and as you tell the story again and again, you begin to see the shifting of the story.

Perhaps you need to become the hero of your own story, because you are the hero of your life. Life is difficult, for all people. When you tell your story, you begin to look at it differently. Maybe you see the parts that are missing, the parts you are not telling, that you are ashamed to tell, that you have been told are not worthy to tell. This is not true.

And when you tell your story, over and over and over again, sometimes you may find that you are tiring of your own story! Some things that were true are no longer true, and will never be true for you again. You have grown. Maybe you’ve outgrown the story you have been telling. It is time to tell another story.

“All stories are true.”

“What’s Happenin’ – by poet Peggy Trojan


What’s Happenin’
Peggy Trojan

Selma Makkela
printed all the news fit to print.
The Hemmilas had a boy,
Erickson’s cow was hit by lightening,
The Polks motored to Chicago
for their grandson’s graduation.
Nothing to cause you anger
or “take to bed worry.”
When you saw Willard
at the feed store, you could ask how
Mildred’s broken leg was coming along,
send an anniversary card
to the Mattsens,
keep an eye out for
Johnson’s lost calico cat.
The news connected you
to community,
safe in the knowledge
you were informed enough
to know just what
was going on.

Peggy Trojan retired from teaching English to the north woods of Wisconsin.
She enjoys quilting, gardening, picking berries, and writing poetry. She is a
member of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.

I had an aunt, Edna Johnson, who also “printed all the news fit to print” in the Door County Advocate. When I would travel all the way from Green Bay to Ellison Bay (!) to see her for the weekend – about 80 miles – she’d make sure she mentioned that in her column. Everything was newsworthy, and we had to wait for news – wait for news to be published. That’s hard to believe for those of us who receive news every moment, at our fingertips.

But have we lost our sense of community, a community that cares, a community that takes notice, a community of real people, not “bits of information?” For as easy as information is to receive these days, connection does not seem easy to receive.

“Something’s lost, and something’s gained, in living every day…” from “Both Sides Now,” written by Joni Mitchell.

Share resources


Yesterday I followed another car for about a mile, stopping at stop lights long enough for the logo in block print on the trunk to register with me: “Wheels when you need them.” City-cars are vehicles you can rent for a few hours or a day, only when needed. In some cities, parking is almost impossible for residents, in San Francisco, for example. Car-sharing of any sort is needed, to be sure.

A long time ago, an acquaintance mentioned his idea that tools and other implements could be shared, from neighbor to neighbor. For example, let’s say you need a lawn mower. Maybe one person on your block owns a lawn mower, so you use it when you need it, then return the lawn mower in the condition you received it. Why, my acquaintance asked, did every house on the street need a lawn mower, or a rake, or a bush trimmer? Why, indeed?

A close friend of mine “rents” her car to a friend one day a week. He has a set of keys, arrives at her house before she leaves for work on the regular day, and uses the car for the day to do errands, to take care of business he can’t make happen easily without a car. No, he doesn’t need a car all the time. No, it’s not a problem for my friend to walk to work on the day her car is otherwise in use. She gets to enjoy the mile walk down an interesting street to her office. At the end of the day, her friend fills the tank with gas and returns the car to its usual place in the driveway. Often, the two don’t see each other for weeks at a time.

Share resources. Such a simple idea. Share resources. Something we have not been accustomed to doing, in our consumer-driven, “each person for him/her self” culture. Why not share the resources we can? Deciding how to share resources can be a community decision. Why not have a few folks from the neighborhood over for a cup of tea one evening to share some ideas. “How can we share resources, the resources we already have?” In community, in a group, our ideas build on the ideas of others, and new ideas arise. This is how group-think works!

Maybe you’ve seen pictures or even a movie that portrayed “barn-raising.” Sometimes in the U.K. the day-long event was called a “raising bee.” On a given day, the community came together to build a barn – an essential for rural life, for animals and crops – to use the resources of the whole community. This custom still takes place in Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities in parts of the U.S. In depictions of “barn raisings” I have seen, the men work all day, “raising the barn,” while the women and children buzz around below, the women lifting colorful cloths from baskets filled with abundant food. All day, the men take time from their work to eat the wonderful food. At the end of the day, musicians magically appear to make music, and the worn-out workers, men and women, find second wind to dance into the night. That’s community. That’s sharing resources.

Sometimes it seems that we are people who have lost our creativity, as if we are marching along, all to the same, droning drummer. To share resources will require some creative thinking on our parts. We’ll have to begin to envision our resources and their use differently.

We’ll have to ask one another for help.

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