Thursday, August 18, 2016


May 18, 2016.  Flint sprawls both flat and undulating across a crease on the web of the hand that is the mitt of Michigan.  Neighborhoods on the west and north sides feature streets that climb and wind, houses perched high above cracked, sloping sidewalks.  Access to such houses requires negotiation of steep driveways and extended flights of stairs leading up from the street.   Summit achieved, the view can’t be beaten even in the worst neighborhoods.  For all the calamity Flint has endured, spring through summer it’s a lush, leafy green city.  Down at street level however, gazing up thirty feet to the ramshackle porch of a large, badly deteriorated house, the climb feels daunting.  One’s sense of duty can waver.  This is especially true near the end of a long, hot day humping cases of water under similar conditions.  I sit in the ERV this particular late afternoon looking up at such a house.  We’re down to twelve cases of water.  This could be our last stop.  The ancient concrete stairs ascend in three flights ending at a broad set of rotting wood plank steps leading to a wide covered porch in an advanced state of disrepair.  A century of Michigan frost cycles have heaved the concrete into unaligned fun house juxtaposition.  A solemn girl of about seven answers the door.  She stays fixed on us for the two or three minutes it takes to explain our presence, then disappears into the dark recesses within.  Minutes go by.  We hear the sounds of concerted movement, the muffled don’t-bother-me-now voice of a woman, ganged pairs of footfalls.  Five children ranging in approximate age from six to twelve emerge from the shuttered home, all of them slight of build, kids indoors on a beautiful spring afternoon.  A middle child tells us they need ten cases, goes back inside when we ask about replacement filter cartridges and a water testing kit.  Once need has been established, we descend to the ERV and begin carrying cases two at a time.  The same child, a spunky eight or nine, is already at work choreographing a fire brigade of siblings ending on the lip of the porch.  She is quietly efficient and economical in manner.  The other kids follow her directions without hesitation.  They are serious in intent, slender of stature.  The heavy cases make their no-nonsense way to the top.  I take time to register each face in turn.  Such lovely children, each one a gift of hope to us all.  Watching them work in concert, their unsullied goodness in service to unconscionable hubris and ignorance, my heart swells and breaks.  We wave our goodbyes and I coax a silent prayer up those crazy stairs.   

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