We didn’t hear the shots but we all felt them.
Facebook lit up with posts and comments full of grief, fear and anger.
Word quickly spread that beloved pub owner Jim Brennan had been gunned down inside his restaurant at the corner of Silsby and Lee roads. A woman passing the restaurant on June 30 heard three shots and called 9-1-1.
Friends texted and called. Everyone was stunned.
Rumors swirled. It was an inside job. It was a gang-related. It was a random act of violence.
No matter what it was, it was heartbreaking to see yellow police tape stretched across Lee Road, on a vibrant street with businesses named Simply Charming, Revive and Sanctuary.
Jim Brennan, owner of Brennan’s Colony was shot to death. At 1 in the afternoon. On a Monday. When the pub was closed.
He died of multiple gunshot wounds during a struggle.
Alarmists sounded the call. Is the city dangerous? Is crime running rampant? Was this a new argument for gun control? Were poverty and Section 8 housing the core of the problem?
Cleveland Heights is home to a diverse lot when it comes to its mix of races, religions and socio-economic backgrounds. The town is full of Orthodox Jews, African-Americans, Caucasians of all ethnic backgrounds and gays who have been accepted and celebrated long before other cities and states followed our lead.
It’s a thriving community with three lively commercial centers: Coventry Road, Cedar-Fairmount and Cedar-Lee. I live within walking distance to two libraries, three family-owned grocery stores, two independent bookstores, a movie theater, an art gallery and endless restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
Food? Take your pick. We’ve got kosher, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Turkish, Thai, Mexican and Greek. You can find the best sushi, soul food and falafel. How many towns have an India Community Center across the street from a store called Ten Thousand Villages?
The diverse array of independent businesses is no small feat in a time when so many towns have lost their centers and their souls by catering to big-box stores and restaurant chains that have squeezed out the little guys and gals.
Brennan’s Colony was one of the pillars of Lee Road. For more than 20 years, teams celebrated or mourned there after softball victories and losses. Old friendships were rekindled and new friendships were sparked. Brennan hosted fundraisers and sponsored sports teams. He made it a welcome place for kids and adults. That’s what you do when you are part of a community, you make room at the table for everybody.
Unfortunately, fear makes people flee. In Greater Cleveland when they flee, they go east, south and west. In Cleveland, you can’t go north. You hit the lake. God help us if they ever build a bridge to Canada.
Someone once used the word “fear” as an acronym. The ‘F’ in that acronym isn’t suitable for a family newspaper, but you can use your imagination to know what the ‘F’ stands for in ‘F’ Everything And Run.
I recently saw a different acronym for the word FEAR:
Face Everything And Rise.
And rise we did.
People came out in the hundreds. More than a thousand of them showed up to light candles, sing and pray at a vigil for Brennan. They left stuffed animals, flowers and thank you notes.
Even before Cleveland Heights Police charged four suspects with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery, people vowed to stay. To shop. To invest in their homes. To honor the man who was a part of it all by remaining a part of it all.
All over America, and probably all over the world, towns are fighting for survival. They fight against poverty and crime. When bad things happen, people flee. They want to find a refuge.
What if the good people stayed? What if they stayed and reclaimed the refuge?
I think you love a town they way you love a person: unconditionally. You make a choice to love. It isn’t just a feeling; it’s a decision.
I once heard someone say about Cleveland, “I defiantly love this town.”
That’s the way to embrace the city you call home.
You don’t flee. You stay. You fight. You cry. You cuss. You dig in deeper. You love it stronger.
A town isn’t defined by its worst moment, but by its best people.
People like Jim Brennan.
Regina Brett is the first-place winner of the Louis Rapoport Award for Excellence in Commentary in the 2014 Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism sponsored by the American Jewish Press Association. Connect with her on Facebook at ReginaBrettFans and on Twitter @ReginaBrett.