By Helen Warren
I live 3½ blocks away from where Michael Brasel was shot and killed on Saturday morning in front of his St. Anthony Park home on Chilcombe Avenue.
On the morning after he died, I turned my sheepdog Malone toward Chilcombe, a route we seldom take on our morning walks. It wasn’t curiosity that drew me. I needed to go there because the assault altered my equilibrium, my sense of my surroundings.
I headed toward Chilcombe to feel the ache, to walk toward the hard truth that I could die as Michael did, in front of my home, approaching a stranger.
The place where it happened looked entirely normal. The crime tape was gone. A few flowers and candles graced the sidewalk. If I didn’t know better, I might have guessed that neighbor children had held a secret meeting there.
I come across such things on my morning walks, tokens left on a sidewalk or a tree stump.
I stopped there on the sidewalk. Malone looked back at me and tugged on the leash. I stood there in the quiet, just absorbing; not thinking, or solving or planning. The enormity of what happened sunk in: A man I didn’t know lost his life on a quiet street under silent trees budding new leaves.
After a moment or two, Malone tugged on the leash again and I turned him toward home. We walked a few blocks.
I turned back to look toward Chilcombe and saw my neighbor Judy walking toward me. I remembered that Judy was friends with Nancy Brasel, who lived across the street from us on Commonwealth. It was hard for Judy when Nancy died in 2010. Nancy was Michael’s mom.
Like me, Judy had taken herself to Chilcombe Avenue to get her bearings after the devastating news.
Judy said, “Beth told me about Michael last night, but I couldn’t quite believe her.”
“Nancy was my best friend,” she continued. “We walked everywhere together. Michael grew up playing with my kids.”
Judy’s words meant Michael was no longer a stranger to me. As a child, he ran down the sidewalks I walk every day. He likely played on Polar Bear Island, the green space that separates the lanes of Commonwealth Avenue. Maybe he built forts in the lilac bushes there, as the current neighborhood kids do.
And when Michael was grown, he chose to raise his children 3½ blocks away.
Judy and I walked back to Commonwealth together. When we reached my driveway, I looked into Judy’s face.
“It’s a hard truth to hold all by yourself, Judy. Let’s hold it together.”
She nodded but didn’t say anything. Then she made her way up the sidewalk to her home.
We won’t want the story to end with Michael Brasel’s death.
Some of us will advocate for public safety measures and decry gun violence. We’ll be more vigilant about strangers and keep a closer eye on our children.
Certainly, we’ll remember how Michael lived his life and pledge to carry on in his spirit. That’s why those hockey sticks are appearing on our porches, to honor Coach Brasel.
But let’s linger over the ache. It connects us to communities that are hurting like we are. Let’s recognize that what happened on Chilcombe Avenue also happens in neighborhoods where we don’t choose to live.
Let’s stop assuming that violence is just a way of life in some places. Let’s not just count the corpses or the bullets fired.
Let’s listen to the stories and help each other grieve.
Helen Warren lives in St. Anthony Park and is a member of the Park Bugle board of directors.