by Kelly Curry, HOPE Steering Committee member
It’s Thursday, April 13, 2016.
Last night, Susie Chang opened the door to her home around 9:45, as Catherine and I walked Paula and her belongings…a little carry on stuffed with clothes and a cloth sack filled with her paperwork..indoors.
Paula Beal is smallish framed, usually energetic and bold in presence. This night though, she is tired. I’m seeing that in between the stress of her current situation and her failing health, exacerbated by her current situation, she’s lost weight. There is a thinness to her usually full, robust cheeks that makes my heart sink and it scares me. Despite it all, she is apparently thankful and relieved as she breathes a sigh of relief, giving a slight smile as she comes out from the cold into the the warmth of Susie’s home.
Paula is elder-sister-mom to so many of us who engage in a human movement for freedom and equity in the Bay Area…one that has as many dimensions, as the power we fight has hounds with mighty jaws and razor sharp teeth.
The teeth either kill you or make you stronger.
One thing is for sure, once you feel the snap of the jaws coming down, it doesn’t matter whether you survive, you will not emerge the same as when you got involved…and at some point, you will wish you hadn’t.
As we walk into Susie’s home, (someone who only yesterday was a stranger and whose only real connection to me is that she too loves Paula) and we negotiate awkwardly where to arrange Paula’s things, it dawns on me that the only energy powerful enough to bend, maim, and soften the bite of these enormously sharp and jagged killing machine-teeth, with mighty jaws that work to devour us all is love.
Something that if we seed, sowe and harvest in abundance…can save us and rock this earth’s foundation.
Love is the beautiful, moving, fluid balmy energy that is giving us the courage to move out of our normal routine and edge ourselves out into places that we do not know this evening; with strangers who meet at the intersection of fear and anger and hurt and “but if I don’t do this then what will happen to Paula tonight and if not me then who?”
“If we do nothing…who is next?”
This night, love has us taking risks and facing the fear that the thing that is happening to our brothers and sisters and neighbors…elders in community, like Paula, who check for us when we are down, have the wisdom to pick us up with a smile or a pep talk or just a sweet, big hug when we are feeling low or weak…if this thing can happen to them then it can happen to anyone.
This night, one of us is caught up in the snap and grind of those mighty jaws…snarling behind the white teeth. And she is the most vulnerable of us all.
This night we are united to keep Paula loved and healed and nourished and safe in the midst of the Bay Area housing crisis that is despiritualizing our city; devouring historic residents; chewing folks up and spitting us out to land where we land…no matter whether there is breath in our bodies…no matter whether our souls sit silently watching while our families, friends and loved ones light candles and sing songs, send silent prayers in vigils that mark the spaces where the machinations of greed snatched up our human bodies and new people walk the paths that we paved by walking…smiling in the sunshine that at one time shined down on us.
Right now, my friend, mentor and partner in community healing is homeless.
She carts her few belongings out of her kids’s truck, when we scoop her to take her to Susie’s this night…the one they share with their grandchildren, they are also homeless…looking battle worn but hopeful and happy for some refuge, no matter how temporary, Paula climbs into my car and we begin to strategize. Next steps…raise funds? seek temporary housing? In this moment permanency seems a strange, expensive, elusive dream.The whole time I’m thinking what about tomorrow night? And for the first time in my life, I’m really scared.
I am wondering now, like I often do, how things got to be this way. Hardworking people, elders and their and children’s children, vital players in our communities who campaign together and build new worlds together, are having to make it the best way they can, in the streets, living in cars and vans and trucks, relying on public spaces and restaurants and the kindness of strangers, to use their toilets and restrooms, bathing in sinks. These are people I love…know…work with…laugh with…plot green smoothie bombings on street corners for babies in West Oakland who reside in food deserts throwing seed bombs and the kids smile at her and don’t curse at all when they see she’s on their block because they love and respect her…while many of the pieces of this world seem to crumble around us…Paula remains vigilante and solid.
Her love-justice work sits at the intersection of the moment that makes and breaks us all-food and housing.
Now ironically, in spite of the sleepless nights of planning and coalition building to ensure the health and wellbeing of young people and families throughout Oakland via the Healthy Corner Store Project with HOPE Collaborative and countless hours volunteering with Just Cause, and People’s Grocery back in the day, she is herself without a reliable food system or shelter.
Even though she climbed the stairs to city hall only days after emerging from the hospital with Just Cause to demand a moritorium on evictions and rent hikes.
City Council passed it unanimously only last week…
Here I am calling around to friends and people I barely know asking for a couch…a shared room…when I want a castle with Nebuchadnezzar’s gardens to house and nourish my friend and her immaculate soul for healing.
Paula is the one who seeks us out when we disappear from the grinding down that happens in the jaws…when we can’t take anymore. She finds us and says “baby just rest and love yourself and heal and we’ll be here for you.”
Despite all of this, right now Paula is in the jaws.
We may not know it, but we are all in the jaws and the teeth are coming for us…all…and if we don’t do something they will snap down on us…that something is activate the most powerful force in the world…love for one another…for Paula…right now.
Fight with love for Paula…now.
To stand up with us and join the fight with love, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 510-444-4133.