There was a movie not too long ago, based on a book called “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” It was about a working mother juggling a high-powered job, a demanding family and endless obligations.
I don’t know how she does it. I found myself thinking about that phrase – but in a whole different context – while standing next to Banika Jones on the porch of her decaying home in Detroit.
If Jones’ name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because her 2-year-old daughter, Bianca Jones, was a headline for several months this past winter. And not the way you want to be a headline.
Young Bianca was first believed to be inside a car when it was stolen. After weeks of exhaustive searching, authorities charged her father, D’Andre Lane, with her murder.
To this day, there is no body.
To this day, Banika believes her baby is still alive, somewhere.
And meanwhile, there we were, on the porch on Custer Street, talking about how Banika had been a day away from losing her house, due to missed payments on a reverse mortgage.
Your baby daughter goes missing. You don’t know if she’s dead or alive.
And they’re about to put you in the street.
How does she do it?
Reverse mortgage pitfalls
“I lost a job last year, and I was actively looking for a new one when my daughter disappeared,” Jones said. “And, as you can imagine, that derailed my job search.”
Banika and her other daughter, Bella, 7, were living in the Custer Street house, which was given to them by Banika’s grandmother. Unbeknownst to Banika, her grandmother had a reverse mortgage, and missed payments led to the house’s imminent foreclosure.
She was one day from being homeless.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I really didn’t know what I was going to do.”
As she spoke, I glanced at the front of her house. Taped on the window pane was a flyer with a picture of her missing daughter, and a phone number to call if anyone had any information.
I saw that flyer, then I saw Banika, and I couldn’t get that phrase out of my head. I don’t know how she does it. If my child were missing, I doubt I could stand up, much less uphold a conversation. If I thought my baby had been murdered, no amount of comfort could bring me to my feet – let alone to deal with foreclosure or imminent homelessness.
But I realized, especially here in Detroit, how often I have been alongside victims of awful things, a murdered spouse or sibling, a child lost to war, a parent taken by drunken driving, a terminal prognosis, an eviction.
And yet these brave people speak, they serve you coffee, they say, “Thank you.” They soldier on. They face the day.
I don’t know how they do it.
A last-minute lifeline
In Banika Jones’ case, one crisis was averted. We were able to save her house through our charity Working Homes/Working Families and fix it up. A job was arranged thanks to the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, which now employs Banika – who spent several years in the Army – in working with homeless veterans.
“It puts me in a place where I can move forward,” she said, “where I can help people too, to make sure that no one ends up where I was about to end up.”
She still has no news on her missing daughter. The flyer remains on her window. There are more court dates involving the accused father.
Yet Banika Jones cares for Bella, she works five days a week, she straightens her salvaged home, she is even planting a garden across the street with neighbors who want to help feed the community.
If you stood next to Banika Jones, you might have no idea the private torture she is going through, the monumental issues she’s had to deal with this year alone.
But that could be true of anyone you see today. So many people carry private burdens, yet push up a smile and drag through the everyday hours of life. That’s worth remembering the next time we think a person is rude or aloof. We never know what they might be wrestling with – especially in these difficult times. I don’t know how she does it. Or some days, how any of us do.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).