There is one picture of Amir Pallet that I swear was taken in my car.
It wasn’t, of course, but I see him there.
In the second row, in the middle, in his safety seat, leaning forward with his tongue sticking out, twisted sideways at 45 degrees, mugging for the camera with joy and purity in his face.
Of such is the kingdom of God, Jesus said. And of such was Amir Pallet.
I went out last night to the stubby driveway off Lyell Avenue where he was run down.
It was a drug deal gone bad. Some two-time convict from the street where I live drove the 40 miles in an unregistered car without a license or insurance and drunk as hell. And there on Lyell, in what has been for the 30 years I’ve known the avenue its worst stretch, he tried to buy some drugs and got turned down.
And beat down.
And in a rage he got in his car with the old woman and gunned it up onto the sidewalk, missing the man who had thrashed him and striking instead the 3-year-old and his aunt.
She was sobbing outside the Hall of Justice yesterday, her arm in a cast, saying she tried to pull him away, but couldn’t quite, and she wished she had done more, wished it could have been her instead of him.
But it wasn’t.
It was him.
A little boy with a big man’s heart, a lad who loved everybody and enjoyed nothing more than laughing and smiling, running through life with gratitude and wonder, and the joy in his eyes.
It was Engine 5 Group 3 that got to him first, the men from the house down the block. There’s a flag on the back of the rig that hung limp and uncertain as they fought to save his life.
The lieutenant went back later and wept with Amir’s mother and father.
And last night as I paid my respects they were weeping still, on the sidewalk beside the busy avenue, a couple of dozen people clustered in groups by the driveway and the porch, heartbroken and dumbfounded. It is a simple house, the steps to the porch torn away by the car that struck the boy, dormer windows decorated in brightly colored markers with hearts and well wishes for a little boy lost.
“We love you!” writ large above the tiny letters, “R.I.P.”
And on the driveway where he stood with his aunt there is a shrine that has collected. There is another one, from an earlier tragedy, across the avenue and down a couple of blocks, dozens of liquor bottles collected and weathered, the memorial of an ashes-to-ashes dust-to-dust world of hardship and danger.
But Amir’s is bright in the evening sun, a collection of Mylar balloons and candles, stuffed animals and plastic flowers. There is a chocolate bar and a plastic gun, a little football and some Play Doh, the gifts of humble people and heavy hearts. There’s Leonardo, the leader of the Ninja Turtles, and Chase, the policeman on Paw Patrol, and the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a rosary, a child in her arms.
Of such is the kingdom of God.
And of such is the heartbreak of a city, the collapse of a people, and the loss of a light.
An innocent child, full of hope and joy, as pure and sweet as any child, struck down and taken by rage and failure, an epidemic of drugs and evil, the debauching of creatures made in the image of God.
Killed by a two-time ex-con come into the city to buy some drugs. No license, no registration, no insurance, no soul. Drunk as hell and mad as hell and straight from hell. And in an unerring vector of mayhem, the darkest heart on the avenue ran down the purest heart, and off into the night he fled. And there on the driveway he bled, amidst weeping and wailing and firemen doing what they were born to do.
And now his nicknames are written in votive candles on the driveway those firemen ultimately had to hose off.
And written in the hearts of those who see and feel and weep.
Amir Pallet was 3. And I can see him in the backseat of my car.
Of your car.
Of every car.
Of such is the kingdom of God.