Lesnia’s scars

I remember very powerfully the tender feelings I had while I gently wiped bits of blood and gravel from the gashes on Lesnia’s leg.

When I had a car, I used to bring Lesnia and several other members of her family over to our church on Sundays. Afterward we had all sorts of fun adventures. We’d get pizza or KFC, visit a park, or fly kites.

Lesnia had fallen and slid while scrambling up the steep hill at Peace Park, scraping open a few large gashes on her leg. As far as my medical knowledge goes, I knew the scrape should be cleaned of dirt and washed so it didn’t get infected. I used rubbing alcohol and daubed it with a cotton ball. I watched as she cringed, squeezing back tears as the alcohol sent the stinging pain searing through her body.

I grabbed her leg tightly and roughly swabbed out all the dirt as quickly as I could, feeling vicariously in myself hot flashes of the searing pain she was feeling. I knew I had to get the cut cleaned out, even if it hurt her.

I blew gently on the cut afterward, creating that cool soothing sensation after the sting that I remember loving so much after my mom would clean my cuts.

Weeks later when I thought back to the incident, I second-guessed myself. Did I have any idea what I was doing? I looked up basic first aid instructions on the Internet, and discovered that hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol don’t help clean a wound out at all, but actually damage the tissue more. Running water and soap are better treatment. I didn’t know it at the time. But I’d done everything I’d known to do.

I wish Lesnia had had someone who knew what they were doing clean her wounds. I wish I’d known ahead of time the better options for washing out her cuts. I second-guess myself and scold myself for doing the wrong thing, even though it was the best I knew to do at the time. Sometimes I wish I’d just done nothing. Often I wish I’d never exposed her nor any of her siblings to the risks of running around in the park at all.

Sometimes I feel bad about how careless I was to think it was a good idea to pull a dozen kids out of the only home they knew in a rusty shanty to cross the clearly delineated social divisions etched out by city planners, reinforced by home owners who don’t understand the dynamics of urban gentrification and perpetuate it by just moving in or trying to “move up in life.” Who was I to think it was a good idea to expose them to how people live in middle-class and rich neighborhoods? Neighborhoods, I should mention, that they were terrified to visit because of how empty and ghostly the streets were compared to the people-filled streets of the barrio in front of their home.

The first time Lesnia’s little brother, Mario, saw where I lived, he asked me where all the wires for the lights were. We hide them in the walls, I explained, suddenly remembering that all the wiring in his home was draped across the fragments of wood rafters holding the roof up.

Sometimes I feel bad about how careless I was, because I would cram up to ten kids in a trooper with seats for only five. No one wore seat belts. The tiny kids that are required by law to be in a carseat, with risk of a $400 fine per child, never were. One traffic stop and I’d probably have my car impounded if I couldn’t talk myself out of a $4000 fine. We did get stopped once, but it was by the police, and fortunately they weren’t looking for me so they let us go. That was a risk that could have ended pretty poorly.

Sometimes I feel their parents never should have trusted me like they did to take a batch of them to church each week. If we had ever had had an accident or gotten questioned by police… or if a child had disappeared in a park or broken a bone on a swing set… I was in no way capable of taking responsibility for those sorts of tragedies.

A lot of that seems like total foolishness, looking back. But… what other options did I have? Avoid the outings all together? They seemed to enjoy them.

I keep kicking myself for not doing enough, or not taking enough precautions. There’s a million regrets and fears that run through my head looking back on what *might have* happened.

And sometimes bad things really do happen, and people really do get hurt, like when Lesnia slid down that hill. I try not to blame myself for them, nor anyone else involved. Working in this shantytown, I’ve knelt down to wipe clean a lot of scrapes and wounds. I’ve suffered through loss and pain from situations in families that I would think unimaginable in my side of the city.

I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m trying my best. The easiest solution seems to just leave well enough alone and stay on my side of the city where I belong, and not risk the possible trauma of trying to plant the seeds in the ground for a little bit of reconciliation that might one day bear fruit. I know it would spare me a whole lot of discomfort and vicarious suffering as well.

I’m not here to be comfortable, though, and certainly not safe. The illusion of safety I feel on my side of the city is a myth as well, one that’s been ripped open as I’ve spent more time moving between the unstable parts of the city and the places that preserve a pretty pleasant mask. And the comfort I feel is an illusion too, based more on being anesthetized and comfortably numb while parts of my city wither and are choked bloodless by atrophy and neglect.

There are people hungry, loosing cousins and neighbors to street violence, working long hours for next-to-nothing pay, being beaten or abused in their homes… these are my family, my neighbors, my cousins. And while they are being abused and mistreated, I am in no way remotely comfortable or safe.

Washing Lesnia’s wounds was the best response I had to the little girl who I’d brought to church that day and took to the park to play. I may not do this perfectly, but I’m not going to live in fear of making mistakes and not doing it right. I’m not going to stop washing wounds and setting the stage for reconciliation I pray will come to be.

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