Why I Do the Work I Do

November 30, 2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the death of my grandmother, Charlotte Louise Guy, who tragically fell victim to a confluence of mitigating circumstances that resulted in her death: a 17-year old girl, who’d just learned on the column downshifting of her family’s GMC pickup; a residential street with a short length of narrow sidewalk that was overgrown by and obstructed with a lengthy hedgerow; the first snow of winter in Springfield, Illinois; and the improper schooling many of us once received as to how to walk roadways lacking pedestrian infrastructure.

Facing traffic, but on the wrong side of the street, Gram set out to take some alterations to a neighbor, who lived on the corner of our block. She got only two doors down from our house along our street’s crumbling eastern edge, when the 17-year old downshifted the GMC to slow it down as she prepared to pass. As the clutch released, the truck lost traction encountering that lethal combination of the first hint of moisture and that slick oil sheen, which forms the top layer of streets like North Daniels, maintained with repeated tar and gravel resurfacings.

My grandmother was preceded in death by her two children, but was a wise woman who built her house on a rock. I survived my grandmother’s loss, and the fact that I was orphaned that day over 43 years ago, because she’d spent the entirety of our 13 years together modeling strength, stability, and a steadfastness wrought by faith that–despite my ongoing efforts–I still cannot begin to match. In the first two years after her passing, I fasted each year on this day, feeling like the feast I’d had on the holiday more than made up for any nutrition I’d lose. These days, this little hypoglycemic has to eat every two hours or else… Nonetheless, recalling the restoration received during those days of quiet contemplation, I have decided to commit more of my time again to meditation.

She was my grandmother and my mother figure. She taught me to ride a bicycle on that same street in that same block where she lost her life. I miss her like crazy, and through the love of the Neff family and many others, who stood in the gap as family though they were just friends, I stand here this day.

On September 22, 2010, while teaching a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Grant Writing Assistance Program workshop, I paused for an extended moment after telling the group about “Pruning Parties,” a non-infrastructure strategy the SRTS program teaches to keep hedgerows and foliage off sidewalks. My prolonged pause resulted from my sudden realization that I had been working–at that point four years–with a program, which has the mission of addressing the kind of missing pedestrian safety elements and education that lead to my grandmother’s death 40 years ago.

Without pursuing it, life had chosen a work focus for me that provided for my continued healing, and I pray, for the increased safety of many others–particularly the youth the program was designed to serve.

And the circle completes again; I have been so blessed.