Life From the Ashes

I woke up to the noise of a fist pounding on doors, shouts, and faint screeching of smoke detectors in the apartment upstairs. Alone in my studio apartment, I imagined my petite gas range exploding. I grabbed my bag and flip phone, pulled fleece-lined pants over my pajamas, took my winter coat, and slipped out the door. As I ran to the stairwell, I pounded on neighbours’ doors, grateful for the noise that had woken me. I ran into the darkness of wee hours with a February snowfall softly accumulating and stood by the fire trucks as the flames leaped from windows above my own. That morning, a life was taken and more than a hundred of us lost our home. It would be a decade before Forest Arms Apartments would house people again in the Cass Corridor of Detroit, Michigan.

My partner is a good listener and gentle communicator. It was only a year into our relationship, but he was the reason I had relocated to Detroit, Michigan. He knew we needed community and gave the boundary that we should find a church we agreed on before getting married. Knowing we both wanted marriage, it was a project for us to start trying churches together. There were some Sundays we had to sneak out the back door quickly, feeling out of place. We tried another and another. One Sunday we found ourselves at St. Peter’s, with a sanctuary frozen in time with the stock market crash of 1929. Exposed brick not from design taste but because the funds for construction had vanished. Sun shone through the stained glass with various cracks from decades of weather. And so many vibrant questions came from the few in attendance. For the first time in months, I felt the fertileness of the ashes I was carrying.

Several months into immersing ourselves in this radical, quirky, and tiny community a guest preacher, Lydia Wylie-Kellermann, came to share her experience in Palestine participating in a peace team. She was planning to return to Detroit after a volunteer year, and a spark came with her offer of being pen pals. We shared stories of discomfort, love, and finding our way post-bachelor’s degree. When she moved to Detroit, my partner and I moved within Detroit to be neighbours with her and her partner. We conspired, built gardens, put up food, and marched in the street. Years later, both parents of two, we were separated by distance again but stayed dear friends. She called me up as I rocked a very pregnant belly. “Would you be willing to be written in a proposal to take on the publication Geez Magazine?” I felt it as a spark, but really the fire had ignited.

My practical brain imagined that it was highly unlikely anyone would entrust a vibrant rad magazine to a few rad femmes piecing together movement and paid work, only having published some liturgies and pamphlets together. I agreed to be written into the proposal saying I would have more time in my schedule in ten months. Well, the proposal was accepted within a month and I soon learned how to manage spreadsheets while simultaneously nursing a newborn and overhearing my toddlers play.

It was never ever easy work. The budgets always felt like a balance of faith and frugality. Behind the cohesive pages of the publications, staff could feel the rise and fall of conflict and resolution and adjustments. But the past five years of being with Geez has been full of moments where I felt seen and honoured for my greatly varied offerings. There are so many factors that led us to this place, but the certain result is there is not enough fuel for this fire. I know and am grateful that there will be seeds rising from the ashes, seeds that will be tended by each of you.

Em Jacoby (she/they) marches for an end to genocide, and feels the sweetness of sharing this life with three young ones and a partner that scheme for a better world in countless mustard-seed ways.

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