(From Christmas a few years ago)
The week before last, I took a trip up to Detroit to visit my brother James who is volunteering for an organization called Youthworks Detroit. My biggest regret is that I was too caught up in the whole experience to remember to take any pictures. I did try to make up for it by recording voice memos of my takeaway from the week during my solo 10 hour drive home. I need a good while to process all that I saw in that short period of time. What’s easy to write about is how good it was to see my brother and the work that he’s doing, and be able to participate in it a bit with him. I was so impressed with him, how he assumes his responsibilities and doesn’t complain and is open to learn and grow and has become a real leader and is someone I not only love but respect and admire. If you’ve been to Detroit, you know that it is a very unusual place. It is the skeleton of a once affluent and booming city, and various political, social, and economic calamities have joined forces against it to render it the sprawling emptiness it is now. Nevertheless, I experienced more life there than I have in a long time.
The streets are covered in bright bold graffiti, and the people I met took my breath away. I was able to sit in on an AA/NA meeting where everyone was so real and true to who they were and what they had experienced, that they were able to help and support those around them in a rare way. Here in NYC, there are lots of barriers that we build between ourselves and the world to hide behind, and there is a lot of alienation that happens as a result. In Detroit, what I experienced was an environment that broke down all those barriers and stripped people down to their basic humanity. The brokenness was certainly very visible, but it was refreshing to be in the presence of so much honesty and authenticity. I thought to myself, “Marie, if you really want to be educated, if you really want to know what life is all about, don’t let yourself drift too far from places like this.”
It was also very cold. I was a total weakling, shivering from the time I entered Michigan until the time I arrived back in New Jersey. And that’s another reason why I was so proud of Jim….for sticking it out through a long gray winter. He has this hilarious dry cynical sense of humor that helps though. I get the impression that a good sense of humor is an essential tool to survival in Detroit. In any case, I can’t wait to see where he goes from there.