“Where is love? Does it fall from skies above?”
Everyday, my sisters and I would walk to the end of our street, East 72nd Place. It was a mixed income neighborhood. Mostly Black. Happy houses. Hopeless houses. There were driveways that were welcoming, alleyways foreboding. Someone said the girl that lived on the corner, a girl my age, had been raped behind her house. I don’t know if it was true, but it scared the hell out of me. When we got to the end our street, we’d take a left onto Jeffery Boulevard, the main thoroughfare in our neighborhood; South Shore on Chicago’s south side.
“Is it underneath the willow tree, that I’ve been dreaming of?”
Next we’d cross 73rd street, passing Bryn Mawr Elementary, where Michelle Obama went to school. One more block to 74th, then across Jeffery, to the South Shore United Methodist Church, where the school bus picked us up outside.
Crossing Jeffery always felt significant. Every step we took felt significant, measured. We were some of the few whites left in our neighborhood, and although we weren’t completely white (our mother was biracial), we looked completely white, and we felt naked, vulnerable.
“Where is she? Who I close my eyes to see?”
Come to think of it every step at home felt measured, too. Mom was unpredictable, often violent. We practiced mindfulness without knowing it.
“Will I ever know the sweet, “Hello”, that’s meant for only me?”
There was a problem with the bus. That had never happened before.
They brought us into the church. I’d never been inside before.
We were corralled into a gymnasium. I sat cross-legged on the floor. It felt safe, calm. I’ve always loved a church. We started singing to pass the time. I don’t remember what else we sang. I only remember,“Where is Love?” from Oliver.
“Who can say where she may hide? Must I travel far and wide?”
As we sang, I felt myself expanding, like my soul was filling the room, the vibration lifting us up. This feeling had nothing to do with my desire to be a movie star, or something, which was a sincere dream of mine. It was different from that. I felt the people around me and myself, to be one, connected by something finer and greater. I thought, “I can help people by singing.”
“Until I am beside the someone who, I can mean something to.”
Eventually, the bus came, and we went to school.
Later that year, our drama teacher put on a production of Oliver. I played the milkmaid. “Will you buy any miiiiilk to-dye mistress?” I was famous for overdoing the cockney accent. Give me a break. I was 10. I also over sang, because a former student, who was practically an adult, returned to play the strawberry seller, and sang like she was in an opera. It wasn’t fair.
I held my own, but it wasn’t transcendent.
That moment in the gym was.
Singing a song, one of many, as we waited for the bus.
“Where? Where is love?”
I knew exactly where.
Inside of me.
And I wanted to share it.