The following post was written last year, the Sunday before Martin Luther King day. I thought I would re-post it here today, as I sit in a very different living room in a very different city…
Last night Doug was working on planning the worship service for today while I finished cleaning up the day’s play in the living room when suddenly our apartment was filled with the sound of a helicopter circling overhead. Our living room was shaking, we could hardly hear each other speak, and I went to the front window to see where they were searching. I couldn’t see the helicopter or the light until I was bathed in it.
“What are they looking at?” Doug asked.
“Us.” I answered.
The helicopter continued to hover over our apartment, and the light was shining through our windows when all of a sudden I heard people running right below the window I was looking out, down our driveway to the back of our house. They were shouting and swearing and running very fast. Moments later I could see guys on foot behind them with flashlights: “Drop the gun!” I heard someone screaming, and I realized our apartment was now surrounded by police. I hit the ground, and yelled at Doug to do the same.
“They’re right outside our windows!” I shouted. I crawled closer to Doug and we sat there, huddled in the middle of the living room floor, paralyzed. “Did you lock the back door?” Doug asked me. I had just been finishing laundry and was sure that I had. Our third barrier, a kitchen door that locks between the kitchen and dining room, was open and I told Doug to go and lock it. And then we sat, holding hands, on our floor. I started to cry.
I don’t know how long we sat there. Eventually we could hear mostly police radios and the voices of officers, and we could see their flashlights sweeping all parts of our property. Deciding that the danger had passed, we looked out the front window and saw that they did have a guy in cuffs up against the cruiser, and there were officers walking up and down our driveway, and searching our front and back yards. They took the guy to a different cruiser, and there was a call over the radio and someone said something about “around the corner” and everyone took off.
Maybe fifteen minutes later, there was knocking on our door, and we went, together, to talk to the officer at our door. He wanted to know what we had seen and heard, and he informed us that they had been chasing a gang member with a gun. They had been able to apprehend the guy and it turned out he had dumped the gun around the corner from our house on Raymond.
When he was questioning us, he asked how long we had lived in this apartment. “Six years,” I answered. “Ever had any problems?” he asked? Doug and I both just stood there, looking at him: “Um…yeah. Lots.” I said, wondering if he was ignorant or checking to see if I was. “I mean, here on your property specifically,” he clarified.” “No, not right here.” I answered. He told us he might have to get back in touch later, we thanked him and said goodnight. At some point during our exchange, our landlord drove up into the driveway and stopped when he saw us in the doorway with an officer. He got out of his car to find out what was going on, and I felt better knowing that he was home.
We went back inside and Doug resumed work on his powerpoint and I finished cleaning, but with a distinct heaviness in both our spirits. It was hard to go to bed last night: that tension between wanting to listen for every sound and wanting to stop hearing noise outside long enough at least to fall asleep. Lots of sirens continued throughout the night, and I dreaded my middle of the night feeding with Elijah that would put me out in the living room alone.
Today we are honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in our worship service. I am at home with the kids, all of us sick, while Doug is there leading. Before all of this happened last night he had asked me: “what should I do for my invocation?” I am wondering what he chose to say to invite our community to enter God’s presence this morning. The words that haven’t left my brain this morning are the title to one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s books: “Why We Can’t Wait”, a theme so poignantly addressed by King in his famous Letter From the Birmingham Jail.
As I think about Doug and me last night, overwhelmed and overcome by fear of gunfire outside our windows, I think of those words: why we can’t wait. As I think of the young man, armed, running through the streets, I think of those words: why we can’t wait. As I think of my kids, sleeping gently in their bedroom while police officers scurry beneath their windows, I think of those words: why we can’t wait. As I think of our church, a church in and for this community, gathered in Jesus name a few blocks from here this morning, I think of those words: why we can’t wait.