Daybreak in East Oakland

I’m sitting on the back porch of the Harrington House. The early morning sun grazes the top of the plum tree to my right and the arms of the cactus that hovers over the chicken coop. Our neighbor’s pit bull is still curled in a tight ball on the other side of the gap-toothed picket fence. Beside me, peaches and tomatoes from farmers’ market donations ooze quietly in their cardboard boxes. All is still and breathing softly in the limbo time between night and day.

The coffee in my cup cools and curdles in response to my blatant neglect. I had made it out of habit, and without really wanting it; I am already awake and painstakingly present in the evolution of this moment. I reflect on the passing of time.

Just two weeks ago the plum tree was in peril, overburdened and breaking by the weight of its fruit; the yard was a monolithic slab of hardened dirt, flecked with glass and broken pottery.

Sometime before that, I was still scraping paint off the kitchen floor and when I walked outside and across the street in search of a broom, I saw two children pushing toy trucks back and forth behind a chain-link fence. The paint is gone, but the kids are still there.

Just a month ago, we were unlocking the doors for summer camp. Bienvenido. We were standing before a cluster of concerned parents, who hoped to entrust their children in our care. We were drafting forms and counting kids, bright smiles and big brown eyes.

July 4th came and went with gunfire. The same sound that woke me last night. I had rolled over and gone back to sleep. This is East Oakland. We could be working somewhere else, a place where the roads are smoother and the nights are quieter. But that’s not really the point, is it? The conflict, and all this cracked concrete is a gift, a catalyst of growth, a cause for celebration.

Back in June, we were sitting in the garden for the first time as a team. We had shared our goals, and dreams, and fears. The people and plans are still solid but the details are warped and hazy in my mind’s eye, like a scene viewed through frosted glass. Peering into that memory, it seemed like we were starting with nothing but the vagaries of positive intentions. I quickly learned that abundance comes to those who call upon it.

It came in the form of dirt and sweat and donated art supplies; helping hands, eagerness, and compassion.

With this abundance, we hacked up the hardened earth and sprinkled the soil with the same intention of regeneration that we showered on the summer camp.

This morning from my perch I can see the garden beds down below me and the camp curriculum for the week blocked out on butcher paper by the door. We are not here to SOLVE anything or SAVE anyone. But every day, I am amazed by our ability to collaborate, to move forward while honoring where we have come from and where we are standing now.

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