Are you listening?

downtown Phoenix

Yesterday, two important things happened.

My boyfriend sat outside from 2:30 to 8:30 pm in a parking lot near 2nd Avenue and Fillmore to photograph the same scene of downtown Phoenix during different parts of the day for a work assignment. Think time lapse but with photography instead of video.

I took him dinner around 7ish, proclaiming that we could have any asphalt picnic. Except there were ants everywhere. And the asphalt was still pretty dang hot at that time.

Instead, my boyfriend backed up his car and I was able to sit in the “trunk” of the hatchback, eating cold noodles and sushi while my legs dangled over the pavement.

Here’s the important part. People walking by stopped and talked to us.

I met a man named Andy who’s been in Phoenix for nearly 38 years, mostly working construction. Since he’s used to working outside in the heat and has acclimated to such, he’s earned a nickname: Old Lizard. He showed me a tattoo of his namesake on his arm, a gecko that looks like it belongs in a Geico commercial, though I’m sure it may be older than the commercials. Andy’s Scotch-Irish, he served six years in prison (though I don’t know what for), and he has a daughter who works internationally who he’s incredibly proud of. He was also involved in the construction of such historic buildings as the Westward Ho (the renovation) and the Chinese Cultural Center.

Andy stopped by and talked to us three separate times, and my boyfriend said he’d been by to chat earlier in the day, too.

One of the last things he said to me? “I really like talking to people—especially younger people—but a lot of times, they won’t talk to you.”

Another man who stopped to talk to us asked if we were praying folk. My boyfriend and I both said “no,” mostly, I think, because we misunderstood the question. I thought he was asking if we were representatives of a church doing church-work on that sidewalk.

Regardless of our answer, he asked if we would pray with him for his mother who has recently undergone hip surgery. Now understanding the larger situation, I said I’d pray with him. We never actually got around to that part, but he did tell me proudly that his mother was a Spanish lady who’d had six boys and no girls. “A tough woman,” he said, and I had to agree. Before he left, I asked for his mother’s name—Helen Avalos—and I said I’d keep her in my prayers.

All of this interaction occurred in less than an hour, between bites of buckwheat noodles and miso.

After we packed up my boyfriend’s gear, we migrated to the community lot on Roosevelt Row for a candlelight vigil hosted by City Square Church to honor those who’ve been affected by the violence that’s erupted in our community this week. A little background is probably needed here.

CandleOn Wednesday night, a priest at Mother of Mercy Mission was shot and killed and another badly beaten in what police are suspecting was a burglary turned bloody.

While terrible and disheartening, this act of violence isn’t the only one that’s hit too close to home recently. A couple days ago, a drive-by shooting near McClintock High School left three injured and the school in lockdown mode.

And this is just a taste of the weekly turmoil in the greater Phoenix community―which is just a snapshot of what’s happening nationally.

How many school shootings have been reported since Sandy Hooks? It’s an obscene number. 74.

The candlelight vigil wasn’t just for the priests who were attacked on Wednesday: it was, for all of us, a time to realize that violence in our communities is a pervasive issue; a time to grieve for innocent bystanders; a time for us to make our concerns known and to try to find some sort of solution.

Now, my two stories don’t seem to have a tie, but if you look a little closer, they do.

In discussions at the candlelight vigil, one resounding call to action became apparent. Pay a little more attention to the humanity around you. Offer kindness. Show people that you care.

Andy―the “Old Lizard”—told me that often people ignore him. They don’t want to talk. They don’t want to listen. And I imagine that’s because we’re afraid to connect with people that aren’t like us—who for some reason or another make us feel uncomfortable. We forget that everyone has a history and despite current circumstances, that history could be beautiful and meant to be shared. Every life holds some sort of purpose.

Perhaps we need to stop pretending to ignore the people around us―all of the people around us. Because you never know how much a conversation, a smile, a nod can mean to someone—perhaps someone who feels isolated and alone and who’s battling inner demons.

I’m not telling you to sit out on a curb late at night to converse with anyone who happens to walk by. I’m not saying this is an ultimate solution to a very large, very complex problem in our society. I’m not calling you a bad person for turning away or for feeling uncomfortable―that would be hypocritical.

But I am asking you to be more aware of those around you. Be aware of your impact, your ripple in the pond. Be aware of the power you possess for good. Because you never know. You never know.

Today, and hopefully tomorrow and the next day and the next, I challenge myself and others with this one simple question:

Are you listening?

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