July 22, 2013

Hearing the Hum

by Natalie Posever

Natalie Posever ’14 is an Impact Providence intern this summer working for Health Leads.

At 8:30am, I begin the two-mile walk to work at the hospital. Maybe it’s because this allows me to avoid the overflowing med shuttle, or because it takes me two miles to wake up, but I have come to love these early morning jaunts. It feels logical to undergo a physical acclimation that parallels the mental one necessitated by moving from College Hill to South Providence. In those two miles I go from watching the silent city from afar to becoming immersed in the lives of some of Providence’s poorest.

Despite the unbearable heat and the abandoned sidewalks crossing over the Point St. Bridge and down Eddy St., my walk is not without human contact. Unlike most people on Wickenden St., who, in their half-asleep states are making a hurried bee-line for Coffee Exchange, the fishermen on the bridge are always chatty. We trade pleasantries as I weave my way through the mass of fishing lines and bloody carcasses. My usual refrain is automatic: “How are the fish today?” It is unnecessary, as the height of the pile of foot-long piscine bodies to my right answers the question.

After rounding the corner I stop to wait for the light to change. I look expectantly to my right for the woman who stands there morning and evening to ask for change. We’ve built up a rapport, she and I. Nothing special, just greetings. But today she isn’t there. In her place stands a young guy, probably just a few years older than I. He turns and says hello, and I say hi back.

“You have really nice eyes. What color are they, blue?”

I am slightly startled by the new intimacy we’ve come to share, even though we stand only a few feet apart. “Yeah” I say, “Sometimes.”

“I’m Mike.”

“Natalie.”

“What...” He starts to say, but the light changes.

“I should get going, but it was nice to meet you.” I interject, crossing the street towards the hospital.

“You too.”

I am still turning over our interaction in my mind when I step into the hospital. I was ashamed of my reaction. Why was I so shocked by this man’s friendliness? I was replicating what I derided social services in Providence for daily. Expecting the powerless to remain silent.

This is what we work against every day at Health Leads. We invite people who have been stripped of a voice in society to sit down and tell us about their frustrations. These stories are often polished and well-rehearsed. It’s not that people aren’t vocalizing the injustices they experience, it’s that most audiences don’t want to hear them.

Each day when I leave the hospital and begin the trek back to the East Side, I am reminded that the silence I notice perched on top of the hill isn’t silence after all. It’s a faint hum, the collective noise of people speaking out. And every day I ask myself what the best way is to extract from this hum individual stories, to make Providence from afar as loud as the deafening cacophony filling the clinic.

Tags

Related Stories