Amazing Grace Essay, Research Paper
They Cry. They Suffer. People Die. They Pray (131).
Throughout Amazing Grace, a bestseller by Jonathon Kozol, I was torn between the feelings of hope and hopelessness. On one page I would be crying, on the next rejoicing. I found both despair and faith woven in the stories of the children from Harlem and the Bronx. These children, who were born into a life most of us couldn?t begin to imagine, live in a constant roller coaster-type reality. There is so much danger in their lives, one has to wonder how they survive, physically and emotionally, from day to day. The hopelessness they encounter in their lives may lead to the hope they develop in their souls.
Hopelessness is something that these children encounter everyday. In 1993, ?10,000 children in New York had lost their mothers to [AIDS]? (Kozol 194). AIDS stretches farther than that, unfortunately. Many of the children themselves are dying from the disease. Despite that fact, medical treatment is hard to come by. The hospitals that serve the Bronx area are dirty and understaffed. Mrs. Washington, an AIDS patient and central figure in the book, was ?held for four nights in a downstairs corridor before a bed [was] free? (98). When I broke my finger, I was upset to have to wait an hour to get it x-rayed.
On top of the diseases, there is drug use. Dealers sell drugs openly in the streets. ?The timing of drug dealing is precise: nine to three, and four to ten on weekdays, nine AM to midnight on the weekends? (60). People also use drugs wherever they feel like it: in the park, in their homes, on the street, in the hallways of buildings. There is no escaping it. Drugs are the economic center of the area.
How can a child have hope when he can?t even go outside to play because it is too dangerous? ?You hear shooting in the night? (34). People are running around the streets with guns and drugs. A child living in an environment like that would be frightened to leave the house. How could they get a good night?s sleep when at night they ?pray that someone in my family will not die? (34).
These children are taught from an early age that hope is hard to come by. The government is cutting services for them left and right. Most of them know one of the 130,000 people incarcerated in New York City over the course of one year (143). Children contemplate suicide. That in itself should send a message that something isn?t right. The security director of a housing complex said, ?If you ask some tenants, ?Is your life worth living???some of them, I think, might not know how to answer? (63).
All these things stack up, one on top of another, to create a living environment that is barely tolerable, let alone enjoyable. So how do people survive? How can these people make it through each day? As Emily Dickinson said,
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me. (Dickinson)
Through all the hardships they have gone through, it is the ?thing with feathers? that kept them warm. It is this hope that keeps the people of the Bronx afloat. During the toughest times, it sings its ?sweetest song.? It doesn?t sing alone, though. These people sing with it in harmony. The principal of a local public school noted that ?there is a protective feeling that can be extraordinarily moving. There is nothing predatory in these children. They know that the world does not much like them and they try hard to be good to one another? (64).
The people of this area find strength and hope from one another and from God. They have strong religious beliefs, which is one way they can deal with all the death and destruction around them. When asked how she kept herself composed, an old lady named Mrs. Flowers commented, ?I pray. I talk to God. I tell Him, ?Lord, it?s your work. Put me to rest at night and wake me in the morning?? (169).
In the morning, though, which feeling will abound, hope or hopelessness? Is there more of one than the other? In Amazing Grace, there was far more written about hopelessness than hope. My question is, did this hopelessness conquer their hope? I think not. These people are strong. I have no firm evidence for believing that hope dominated. Maybe it?s something inside of me that would love to see a happy ending for these people. Maybe someday there will be one.
?And I saw a new heaven and new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away?And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold? I make all things new?And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away?And God shall wipe away their tears? (238-239).
Kozol, Jonathon. Amazing Grace. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.
Dickinson, Emily. ?Hope is the Thing with Feathers.? 100 Selected Poems. University
of Maryland Online. *http://www.inform.umd.edu/EdRes/Topic/WomensStudies/ReadingRoom/Poetry/Dickinson/hope-is-the-thing*