She knew it was coming even before she went downstairs for her
So she wasn't surprised to find her husband sitting in their
West Simsbury kitchen, waiting to calmly hand her an article
about a shooting that occurred in Hartford the day before.
Hadn't she been less than a mile from there at the time? Wasn't
this exactly what he and the kids worried about when she announced
a couple of years ago that she wanted to volunteer in the city?
Of course he didn't say any of that. He just looked at her.
And really, that's all he
needed to do. "I could read his
thoughts," Maureen Chapdelaine wrote in an e-mail a few
days later. "I'm a mother and I know what 'worry' is."
"I don't like making
my family worry."
So, she's questioning her decision to volunteer in a city that
has seen homicides almost double this year over last and shootings
rise more than 50 percent. She hasn't made a decision yet, she
said, but she knows she'll have to soon.
Chapdelaine isn't the first person I've heard from who is reluctantly
reassessing her commitment to the city.
There was the woman I wrote about a week ago who packed up her
family and moved to Florida. She didn't know anyone there, but
figured it had to be better than fearing one of the endless funerals
she was attending would one day be for one of her own children.
And the mother who wrote me just the other day to say that since
the recent rash of violence she has pretty much holed herself
and her 7-year-old son in their Park Street apartment in fear.
"It's not really living. You can't leave your house except
to get your essentials," she said.
In the decade or so that I've been here, I've noticed Hartford
often acts a lot like a self-conscious junior high school kid
desperate to be in with the prettier (Boston) and cooler (New
York) crowd. It doesn't care what those closest to it thinks
of it. It doesn't much care about making a good impression on
them either - how else to explain city officials' responding
to the spike in violence and death by proudly trotting out statistics
that say crime is down?
But let an outsider point out its flaws, and they're tripping
all over themselves to fix them.
So in the hopes that maybe this will convince the folks in charge
that we have ourselves a problem of, at the very least, perception,
I asked a very hesitant Chapdelaine to share her story.
When we met at Elizabeth Park on Monday, she said she wanted
to clarify a couple of things. She's not some do-gooder. She's
not a bleeding-heart liberal who just wants to give back, either.
Truth is, she said, she gets a lot more out of volunteering
than the refugees at Catholic Charities to whom she teaches English
or the Hartford High School students she tutors in math.
Volunteering, she assures me, isn't some way to fill the empty
hours of retirement from the computer software business she built
with her husband, but how she's chosen to spend the second part
of her life.
She was so serious about this second phase of her life that
when she realized just how rusty her math skills were, she audited
summer school classes in algebra and geometry with kids who were
just a fraction of her age.
She liked the challenge - though not the panic attack she had
the day of her first quiz. And she liked shattering the misconceptions
that seem to come so easy once you cross the city line.
"It's so easy to sit in judgment in the comfort of your
home," she said.
Her family made their concerns for her safety known right at
the start. But she won them over by sharing stories of all the
great people she met and the amusing mistakes she made in her
There was the Hartford High
School kid she innocently called "Feo" for
weeks - didn't everyone call him that? - until someone told her
it was Spanish for "Ugly."
And the young refugee woman she was out to lunch with just a
few blocks from the shooting on Park and Squire streets: She
was practicing her conversational English to qualify for a job
at Hartford Hospital. She thinks she'll be ready soon.
They're great stories, Chapdelaine said. And partly why she's
still torn about what to do.
They just aren't holding up to the stories of shootings her
family keeps reading.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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