Onion Rings and Drive-By Shootings

By Elizabeth Langgle-Martin, Outreach Worker and Resource Navigator

This week, I took my close friend to Sonic to celebrate his 48th birthday. He requested onion rings and wanted to try their new BBQ bacon burger. We took pictures and I taught him how to flip his phone’s camera to front facing in order to embrace the selfie. He talked about reconnecting with his family and how he and his sister recently tried to recreate his mother’s tacos. My friend is medically vulnerable and his journey is not an easy one but it is one that I am so proud to be a part of. It is a story that I glean hope from and a relationship that I treasure. At the end of our visit, I took him to the apartment that we worked so long toward and I felt the peace of leaving my friend in a safe place that is his own.

This week, I also visited a gentleman who was hospitalized after a horrible and random violent incident. In one moment his life changed. Stepping out of a convenience store at the wrong moment, a stray bullet resulted in paralysis that will lead to complete care being required for the rest of his life. My co-worker and I offered support and solidarity and listened to his family ask questions for which we had no answers. Since receiving the news of this shooting, I have felt numb and I have felt wracked with guilt. I thought of everything he and I have done together and every single thing I did not do. Mostly, I’ve felt terrified that at the end of the day, we can be so powerless when it comes to the horrors that our friends on the street are subjected to. There was a news story about the shooting. One story that lasted 1 minute and 52 seconds. A man’s life was forever altered and our community acknowledged it with less then two minutes and footage of police tape… nodded and moved on.

As a kid, a teenager, and even a young adult, I remember wanting to change the world. I burned with this idea that I could do something new, something greater that would make everything better. If I just cared enough, gave enough, anything was possible.

As I’ve grown older and grown up, I have decided that I can’t change the world… but I can be a part of the world changing. This shift, this revelation has been hard to swallow and relieving to digest.

At the end of the day, I can’t control how many birthdays my friend will have. But I can celebrate each one with a slush that turns my tongue red and a slightly blurry selfie. I can’t redirect the bullet that threatened to take the life of an innocent bystander, but I can be there to tell him I care when he struggles to understand that he can’t walk out of the hospital.

I’ve realized that sometimes “being a part of the world changing” looks a lot like just showing up in the hard and in the happy.

So in between extra orders of onion rings and drive by shootings, in the midst of homelessness and freshly signed leases, at the very end, I hope my friends just remember that I was there.