Written by Chris Padgett, Human City Creative
Chris Padgett is a proud dad, the owner of Human City Creative, as well as one of Neighborhood North’s Founding Board Members. Chris currently serves on the Neighborhood North Education Committee, and we appreciate the artful insights, unique perspectives, and gifted storytelling that he brings to our project. He also serves on the board of the Genesis Collective.
I would get lost in the silence often, sitting on the gravel that wove around to the inside of the circle pathway before leading back out of it again. This spot was often in the shade in the early morning hours before the sun started to rise above the treetops to warm my back. I was in the prayer labyrinth at Spring Street Garden, and pulling weeds in the morning had become a regular rhythm for me in the summer of 2016.
At the time, I didn’t really know many people in Beaver County. I had moved to the area from Illinois to remain close to my then 5-year-old daughter and spend life with her. But in the aftermath of poor personal life choices, I had found myself with a deep sense of personal loss and was trying to make sense of my past and my identity. It was here in the garden that I found myself in the process of trying to breathe, trying to grieve, and taking comfort in being alone in prayer. I was quietly in the process of trying to understand what a healthy new life looked like.
It was on one of these summer mornings that I was working in the garden, that a man who stopped by the garden, got my attention. I walked over to him, not knowing him or what he might like to talk about and all these years later, I can’t say I remember the specifics of the conversation I had with him. But what I do remember is that he gave me the gift of sharing who he is, in his story, his struggles, and his personal connection to the area I was just beginning to become acquainted with.
It was in moments like these, there in the garden, as I quietly walked the prayer labyrinth searching for healing and as residents stopped by to share their stories with me, a word kept coming back to me. It was the word “listen.” And it didn’t stop there.
Authenticity and vulnerability would surface in conversations I had with residents at Uncommon Grounds Cafe in Aliquippa, or with a man named Fletch who stopped me late at night in Beaver to play me a song on his guitar or sitting in a car with June and Brownie waiting for the rain to stop before fixing bicycles near Logstown, or in sharing a meatball dinner with Angela after just meeting her in Beaver Falls.
It wasn’t long before I noticed that personal struggles and deep loss a community had faced, had given birth to rich wisdom, empathy, and deep love. And it had begun to affect me in unexpected ways. It didn’t take long for me to realize that if I had benefited from that experience, it was possible others might as well. With my background in film, I thought perhaps these voices could be lifted up, and perhaps they need to be heard for the benefit of both the sharer and the listener.
I began to read Brené Brown and hear about the value of vulnerability and Henri Nouwen, who wrote, “Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings.” And in 2017, I started filming and began Human City Creative, a community-filmmaking organization.
It began with capturing the stories of the grieving parents of The Still Remembered Project in the Pittsburgh area, who bravely shared their stories of grief from their children who had died. With deep empathy, they spoke wisdom of giving grief space and to be able to talk about subjects that may seem taboo. They taught me that grief can sometimes transform into a deep love for others in ways that people felt known and heard.
It continued with the personal story of my dear friend, Jinger in New Brighton, who honestly and bravely talked about overcoming addiction and pushing to find her true value amidst all of the voices inside her that spoke against it. It continued with my friend Marlon in Aliquippa, who relentlessly created beauty with his art, even when he felt it wasn’t seen. It continued with my friend Jim who shared about finding God in the silence, with my friend Kolbe in Beaver Falls who shared the importance of hope, with my friend Christine who shared that play is the language of children learning. It continued with work I’ve been blessed to do through county work with RiverWise, hearing residents speak on what healthy community quality of living looks like and with all the helpers during COVID-19, like Felicia in Ambridge who asked the questions constantly “Who is being left behind?” and “Who is falling through the cracks?” The truth is, I could go on and on.
Through the past 5 years in Beaver County, there has been so much I have heard in hearts as well as my own. There is beauty, there is complexity, there is mess. In that time, however, there is one common thing I disagree with. I have heard it said that Beaver County used to have so much going for it, and that it was a beautiful place in the past. I can’t speak for what it was, I wasn’t here at that time. But I do know what it has been to me and what it has meant to me. I know that for me, what I have found here, is a friend. That it is one of the richest and most beautiful places I know.
So, thank you Beaver County. Thank you for sharing yourself with me. You didn’t know it, but through you, I was sat with in grief as you talked about what it was like to experience loss. I was given wisdom when you talked with me about identity and the value and dignity of human life. I was told what healthy love looks like when you showed me the people who wanted the best for you and did not hesitate to show up when you were in need. Money did not buy that, but it had all the worth in the world.
I’m definitely not perfect at it, and I lose my footing often, but I am looking forward to continuing sitting with you and sharing your stories as long as you’ll have me in that sacred space.
Starting January 31, 2022:
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