The Occasional Flowers of Newark

It was a beautiful day in the city, with the sun finally making a more permanent appearance. I had just shipped a box of bagels to my mom for Mother’s Day (apparently my whole family shares a similar obsession with these circles of doughy deliciousness) and was walking down 30th Ave towards the subway. Newark, NJ was my faraway destination.

As I was crossing the street WAM! I was hit – not by a car, a bike, or even a person. I was struck by a small spec of dirt.

Unfortunately, the results were devastating.

After several hours of rapid blinking, painful attempts at flushing out the mysterious partial, and a few unintentional, watery tears, I decided my swollen eye was indeed the one ailment I didn’t want to deal with: a scratched cornea. My sister had somehow accomplished 2 or 3 of these little devils before she was 16, so I knew the symptoms and the annoying procedure to heal the ripped wound.

But let’s flashback to another epiphany I had during the searing cornea pain.

I sat on the PATH train with a watery stare as I traveled to Newark and then walked 20 minutes to Trinity Church. The after school program I have come to know and love over the past 5 years was about to begin its usual chaos, and I was excited to have a day off to partake in the madness.

Though I looked like a fool (or looked high) with one red eyeball, a small happiness crept up inside of me. It wasn’t raining, it wasn’t cold, and the sky was a brilliant blue instead of that despicable gray I’ve come to loathe. No coat was necessary as I strolled down the concrete streets, with greenery and splashes of colorful flowers bowing their heads towards the sun.

And yes, believe it or not, there IS the occasional flower in Newark.

As I arrived at the church, the children were already organized into their groups painting, gardening, or completing a Bible crossword puzzle with surprising meticulousness. Though I roamed between activities (blinded ever so slightly by my irritating eye), Miss Kortlyn’s gardening group was my most undeviating position.

“Miss Kortlyn what can I dooooo!?” one child said, hopping up and down like a typical ADD elementary school kid. “Ah! A worm!” another girl screamed, as she unearthed the slimy bug. An older boy simultaneously backed away from her, not afraid to admit he was in fact very afraid of the small creature.

“Look how the plant grew, Britney!” the 4th grader next to me exclaimed. I squinted at the green stem she pointed to, and nodded with excitement at the Trinity Church garden. But another thought was on my mind…

The children – my children! – were growing. The kids who I’d first worked with were no longer in the after school program and had moved on to middle or high school. Now their siblings or fresh faces replaced the first bunch of crazy ones. Are they doing okay? What was in like in high school? Could they read any better than before?

And then what… these kids would go too! They would leave the safe (well safe-ish) confines of the church and be attacked by the very real and harsh world of Newark. In fact some were already attacked by the harsh world of home. What could I do?

In all honesty? Not much. Particularly with little access to NJ, trying to hold down a job, and an internship, there is very little I feel as though I can do.

Except maybe hope.

I can hope with all my heart that these children will be like the seeds they are planting. When faced with difficult decisions in the future between what is right and what is wrong, I can hope the moral seeds from their past are deep-rooted and spring forth. And I can hope the kids will spread more loving seeds throughout their community and home. And I can hope that this garden will continue to grow until it’s bursting with vibrant and ever-lasting life.

And I can hope these kids will aspire to be the occasional flowers of Newark.




Oh and PS – My eye was fine after an emergency room visit, throwing up, a good night’s sleep, and prescription eye drops.