Our Block


Jump roping goal for the week:

2 sets of 3 minutes. Mon-Thurs.


On the sidewalk, under the streetlamp in front of our house.


Barely made it through the first set when I saw Gmoe walking toward me down the sidewalk. After I finished, he asked me how long I had been jump roping. “Three minutes” I gasped. “Oh” he said, shocked. By the way I was panting he probably expected me to answer something more along the lines of 30 minutes. Two minutes into the second round I stopped.

“You got to keep going! One more minute!” he said. “One more minute!”

One more minute?! That’s like saying to someone who’s about to drop out of school, “One more year! You can do it.”

But I started jumping again...and finished. Barely. It wasn’t pretty.


Just me this time. I quit both sets with 30 seconds left to go each time. Afterwards, I thought it would be wise if, next time when I felt like quitting, I should count to 30.


When I felt like quitting, I started counting to fifty, by 10’s. Finished both sets.


Now that I knew I could complete both sets, I shifted my attention away from time and focused on form. When I began jump roping, my butt would stick out and my heels would touch the ground. It was awkward. Today, however, I began to focus on a more erect posture, and tried to be as light on my toes as possible. I isolated different muscle groups and tested their strength, and tried to listen to my body and trust in its ability to discern the right form. And in this moment of peace and exertion, as my body grew tired but continued, my mind began to drift to the civil rights movement. A movement, whether it's jumping rope or confronting an oppressive force, happens in time. I thought about their endurance and what MLK Jr. calls the strength to love. I thought about how much training is required to love someone who willfully disrespects you, threatens you, hurts you. That's not a race that is won overnight. You need to build up your wind. You need to build up your heart so that when the moment comes you can be ready and your heart can open up, widen with each pump, allowing God an access to reside in that moment of your body. For many, resistance isn't a matter of preparing for an unfortunate unforeseen occasion in the future; it's a daily pressure. Which reminds me that strength is all well and good, but what is it without endurance?

I started fading. My jump rope form loosened. Weariness started to set in…and remembering my plan, I began to count to fifty in sets of 10. Bite size, doable pieces. By the time I had counted to thirty I was done.

I walked briskly to the end of the block feeling exhilarated. I walked back to the car, clapped my hands and yelled outloud “One more, baby!” I yelled it twice, just in case my point wasn’t made to the night. But instead of picking up the jump rope I kept walking west down my block, which is a weird thing for me to do. Although its 30 feet from my front door, I rarely go there on foot. West is where the new, fresh sidewalk in front of the beautifully rehabbed homes ends. West is where, at the edge of the light from the street lamp, the sidewalk transitions into crumbled concrete in front of a stretch of empty homes. At the end of the block is where the long term residents live: Martin, Ms. Carol, Stephen. Between us and them are uninhabited houses without electricity that remind me of how our block looked and felt only 3 years ago.

After the raids last year, the only people who are left on that 3rd of our rapidly changing block are people my age and older. The young black men aren't there anymore. Most of the neighbors who are left are people with whom I have enjoyed friendly conversations and dinner. Before the raids, I remember the warnings not to mix with them from an older resident on the block. But I also remember giving each other "what's up" head nods. Once in a while I would walk by with the kids and we would briefly talk. I never felt in danger, but I also felt like it was hard to have a reason to go down there. But even now, a year after the young black men stopped coming by, there still is a boundary in my memory, in my heart, and on this block with its clean new line of sidewalk.

I walked west, and as I crossed the line on the ground I felt the truth of my thoughts and a rush of embarrassment, freedom, and peace came over me.  My eyes welled with tears as I looked at the block from a different perspective.

Our bodies and where we take them are connected to our hearts, minds, soul and environment. Our block is a living thing. Whatever was keeping me from walking down the street had been released after jumping rope for six minutes, four days in a row. Endurance in one part of my life opened up endurance in another.

I stood at the end of our block, and as the traffic from the Lodge swelled with its slow oceanic pulse, I saw, standing quietly across the road: Herman Kieffer. The Herman Kieffer is a former hospital that was sold to NY developers for a song and is now a gigantic development project. A development that, as I write this, many of my friends are engaged in a creative conversation with its developers concerning the trajectory of their plans...or...and… actually I don’t really know what’s going on. I looked at the building with a couple dozen of its hundreds of windows lit. My eyes drifted up and I saw the dusk sky floating above it, its clouds tangled like the intestines of angels. I smiled and headed back into the block.