I think for the rest of my life, when I hear a helicopter’s propeller, I will think of George Floyd. On the Saturday after he was murdered, I sat under a tree in Powderhorn Park with my neighbors and developed strategies for how we were going to keep supporting each other in the days ahead. We developed text chains, planned night-watch shifts, and reminded one another that even at the height of our fear, we needed to interrogate our definitions of “safety” and “belonging.”
Later that afternoon, our “COVID friend pod” came over. Before the evening’s 8pm curfew kicked in, we sat outside in my backyard. Each of us people of color, brought together as we attempted to navigate predominately white institutions of higher education, kept together because of the deep relationships formed. As we ate hot dogs and grilled corn with coconut milk, we discussed cross-racial solidarity and all that we wanted to do together after the pandemic.
Through the rage and pain of the last year, it has been days like that Saturday that have kept me going. Uplifted by the wisdom of neighbors and encircled by the love of friends, I have been reminded that we are, as adrienne maree brown describes in “Emergent Strategy,” “a microcosm of all the possible justice, liberation, pleasure and honesty in the universe.” Relationships will be the site of our collective transformation.
For better or worse, I have lived for long periods of time in many different communities: from the busy city life of Lisbon, to the quiet countryside mountainous villages of the Portuguese Beira Alta, to the dense Black Forest in Freiburg, Germany, to the humid warmth of sunny Sarasota, Florida, and finally to the cold white winters of Minneapolis.
Moving comes with its ups and downs. It often takes a toll on one’s identity and pursuit of meaningful relationships. Despite that, I am lucky to have found an intense attachment to the places I have lived because of experiences of significant changes either in my personal life, in collective experience, or both.
I grew up in Lisbon, a town of many firsts for me and, therefore, many changes. When I was 14, I moved to a countryside village near Viseu, Portugal, at a time in my life when my body and mind were rapidly transforming. I finished high school in Germany in a school full of students from all over the world and all walks of life — every day I learned something new and shared the experience with students as a community. I moved to Florida for college, another instance of intense change and emancipation.
I have been in Minneapolis for over a year now. I witnessed the tragedy of murder happen on 38th and Chicago just two blocks from where I live. I watched history unfold, and saw a community looking to heal and love through solidarity, compassion, and camaraderie in the middle of chaos, trauma, and change.
That is what makes me feel attached to a community — the experience of change, whether positive or negative.
Water crashes over the dam I hear from my balcony. The river below is lined with fishers angling for the homing fish. One says he caught a walleye. I am visited daily by different birds.
After living 17 years in Minneapolis, I relocated back to Northfield, where I attended college decades ago, during COVID-19 caution.
A friend alerted me to the perfect-sized apartment and location that is walkable to the Just Food Co-op, an exemplary library, coffee shops, body workers, arts guild, and a pub. My Minneapolis friends come to see where I have disappeared to. We are all homing — a journey by bits and pieces, looking for where we belong.
I have a tiny garden, just enough for some tomato plants. I am composting my food scraps. A friend made plans to compost her own self right here in Northfield. A book about green burial showed up. I can make that happen. It is time for these decisions.
In the meantime, the world is coming to Northfield. The colleges are splendid attractors, the bird feeders of the brain. Plus, years ago, I married a “townie.” The children and grand- and great-grandchildren have the same homing genes as I do. Which ones will they activate? I see the external patterns of empire building and the internal patterns of right relationship with earth as what we are searching for now.
The bike trail beckons. Walking along the river immerses me in woods and wildflowers. There will never be another day the same as today.
This happened long ago, when I was in my thirties and teaching in public school where I was not unacquainted with a school district’s budget cuts. This time round the subjects with heads on the block were foreign language, music, art, and phys ed. Nothing essential here, only areas that can lead to life-long enrichment.
Having grown used to finding my monthly check in the office pigeon holes, I scoped out a subject that I could teach besides German. But which? Math, science, I had zero background in. Social Studies I could slide into easily, but this was monopolized by a stalwart crew. That left English. And I’d always loved to read.
I’d graduated from the University of Minnesota, and its proximity served me again for another degree. On class days I could drive to campus after work, get home by seven, have supper with my husband, throw in a load, prepare for the next day, and collapse into bed.
One of those classes was poetry. I remember sitting in class, listening to the professor who announced we’d do Auden first. I looked around; the other students smiled in camaraderie. Heh, heh. I’d never heard of any of these poets; it was going to be difficult getting an A.
The Professor opened by reading Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts”. I was stunned. I’d never heard anything so beautiful. Where had I been all my life? I wanted to write like that. And it looked on the page, so easy!
Ignorance is sometimes bliss. I continued teaching but began writing. Thirteen published poetry books and three picture books later, I’m still aiming for wonder. Still happily in love with the “Musée des Beaux Arts.” Still getting a shiver up and down my arms just thinking about it.
My involvement in community was grass roots. Actual grass roots. A community garden needed volunteers to clean up and put in a garden for the neighborhood. I like digging in dirt, so I volunteered. It started my decades long vocation of making brownfields greener and growing food for the community.
I have gardened all of my life, since I was eight years old, and love watching things grow. After working for a while in other gardens, I was amazed by how many people didn’t know where food came from, how things grew, or even cared about weather and seasons.
I was happy to share my knowledge with anyone wanting to listen and was excited by their excitement. I was working with a youth group in a community garden. Our goal was to help the kids learn about gardening, soil, environment and nutrition. As part of the program, we ate lunch together, with stuff we got out of the garden. It was my turn to cook and I needed an onion. So I took one of my helpers with me and we pulled some red onions out of the soil. I started to head back to the kitchen and my helpers said, “What are you doing?” I said I needed an onion. He was shocked that I could just pull an onion out the garden and use it right away. He thought it needed “processing.”
The look on his face when he realized gardening gives you FOOD, was priceless. And so, I continue to garden and teach.
Feeling attached to a community has not been an easy thing for me. I have moved a lot, domestically and internationally. Therefore, the feeling that I belong to one place, that I feel welcome or can call somewhere “home,” naturally changes and continues to evolve as I get older.
Minnesota is my current home. Although it was very difficult to assimilate at the beginning, this has surprisingly been the place where I have found a vibrant community of people, and that has helped me grow and challenged me in new ways.
I feel passion for volunteering. As board member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Twin Cities, I have been able to connect with and support many Hispanic/Latinx students, families, professionals, and allies. This has made me feel connected with something that feels familiar, that reminds me of where I come from, like a sense of Familia. Through SHPE and other non-profits in the cities, I have found a collective goal with many: We want to see our local community grow, advance, and succeed. I am proud to be part of this community, and we are here to make it happen.
It’s a sofa chair. Blue-cream plaid, sturdy. Surprisingly easy to lift. My dad foists it through the hospital lobby, into the elevator. I’m alert for skeptical brows.
The elevator door closes. Whoosh. Onto the next level. I look to him; he’d changed from his doctor clothes to holey slacks. His outdated glasses frame eyes that carry years of patient stories.
This chair is to hold years of my own patients’ stories. The elevator groans open to the lobby of the pediatric psychiatry ward. Kids talk best when slouched in comfy chairs. I scuttle to the first set of locked doors, flash my badge.
Onto the unit. Dr. Dan, my colleague who recruited me, says in his jolly tone, “You’re moving in!” Shared laughter. Relaxed shoulders.
Was I breaking the rules sneaking a contraband chair into my office? No matter. I belonged. No more scaling the walls of medical school, licensure exams, residency, fellowship, tears, doubt.
And I wanted them — my patients — to feel this, too. You belong. On this earth, and this unit of 24 beds. A community of healing. My dad scuffs the chair along the parquet floor. “Show me the way, Doc.”