Joe Lapp


Kenilworth, D.C.

The Mennonites came to Kenilworth to beat the draft, legally,
nonresistance exiling them from Midwest family farms
to their alternative, 1-W service in hospitals in town. They knew
my parents, Beachy like themselves, ran a mission here, and so
they came. Tom Brown will tell you that they wore white suits,
walking up Douglas Street to catch the bus out into the hills
of P. G. County, past the giant neon “Pepsi” sign, to help the X-rays
see through skin to bone. They lived their pacifism— –
came to Kenilworth and turned the other cheek at home.
Here is Oren, for example, his glasses flying one way, the ladder the other,
rolling on the pavement thinking, “"Thank you, God, for my suffering.
Thank you, God, for counting me worthy to suffer for you,"”
after a stranger walked up and knocked him off the ladder
where he painted windows at the mission house. I grew up
with these men, my heroes, the ones who stayed home from ‘'Nam,
then stayed in Kenilworth even after their war-draft debt was paid,
the ones who didn't want to leave for farms and closed communities,
or maybe felt so guilty to be alive—their fellow men ground up
in Vietnam—they had no choice but give their lives
to serve the God they loved. Like them, I still don't vote,
all that change-the-world cheek rubbed raw by power in the end,
all that politics, when you see it from this side of the river,
polluting the air like the smoke that used to rise from Kenilworth,
all the city's trash burned in the city's marshes, beside the river.
That dump is a park now, but still the stench of war boils up
from downtown buildings, roiling clouds of wasted lives and cash.
I prefer to fight my own way, bring peace to neighborhoods
like my hero-men kept peace within themselves. I love to stay
over here, where long-suffering mothers forgive the ones who kill
their sons and daughters, don't cry out in papers for hell and death
like those well-to-do white women who emerge from court
in smoky sunglasses and dark pantsuits, bent on damnation
and revenge. Can nations turn the other cheek and still survive?
Can we forgive and not be on our own death-chair?
Can you picture our presidents rolling on the pavement, letting
a stranger beat them, thinking, “"Thank you, God, for my suffering.
Thank you, God. Thank you for counting me worthy to suffer for you"?



Joe Lapp lives in Kenilworth, DC, the son of an Amish-Mennonite pastor who started a mission and a church in the neighborhood. He recently published a short booklet on Kenilworth area history and is working on a creative nonfiction manuscript about the story of the neighborhood, his family, and the church.


Published in Volume 7, Number 2, Spring 2006.


To read more by this author:
Joe Lapp: DC Places Issue