It’s almost 9pm. I walk home from the train, pass by the neighbors on the their front porches — all the ones who are usually there. Except Toney isn’t this time, but his front door is open and the light is on, and so I assume he is inside with his family. When I walk home by myself at night, I scan the street to the houses I know are safe, so that should something happen, I know where to run to first. I’m actually not paranoid. Just trying to think ahead and be practical. Toney’s house is one of those that is safe — he’s a husband and father, and he and Joel have become friends during the year we’ve lived here. He always shouts hello to me as I pass by.
Through the front door, up the stairs, into our hot little third floor studio. So hot. I crank our small a/c unit as high as it will go. I get ready for bed. Joel comes home from a friend’s. We pour a glass of wine and walk over to the couch. Blue lights are flashing outside the window, and I look just in time to see a cop jump out of his cruiser and run into Toney’s house. I see a woman run out and throw herself down on the sidewalk. No! No! No! she screams. We run outside. Within a minute the street is filled with police cars, ambulances, EMTs and officers.
The other neighbors have come out too, they heard six shots. We must not have heard it because of the cranked a/c, and perhaps because we’ve begun to adapt to gun shots as part of night noise in the city.
Toney is special on our street. He might be the only resident that everyone seems to know. He always has a smile, and calls out to you by name, and asks what’s good.
The yellow tape went up, and on either side a crowd gathered, waiting to see if anyone was hurt, hoping desperately that the shots that were fired missed all targets. A few minutes later they brought Toney out on a stretcher. Shot six times in the chest and neck.
Your heart hits your stomach and your stomach hits the ground.
Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff
Joel stayed out on the street to speak with other neighbors and friends. I went inside and sat on the window sill and just prayed. Violence is horrific. Violence done towards someone you know and care about, even more so. Violence that leaves a family undone and hurting is the worst. I don’t even know what to say, except that, having been part of a family that has been torn up by tragedy, I ache for them in an inexplicable way that you know if you’ve been through it too. Seeing Toney’s wife throw herself on the ground, crying, I thought Oh my God, I know this. I know this too well.
The last in-depth conversation Joel had with Toney, he told him that he had been running from God for a long time. He said that he knew he was too bad to be around God and that if he were to get his life cleaned up then maybe he would be able to pray and go to church. Joel talked to him about grace. How none of us would ever be clean enough to be around God without Jesus. How we needed Jesus in every part of our life, and how God wanted us to come to him just as we are, with our idols and addictions in plain sight.
I’m praying that Jesus will make himself known to Toney in a tangible way. That he’ll be free to rest in his presence. And that Jesus would bring healing that is physical, emotional and spiritual.
I lift my eyes up to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” — Psalm 121.