The neighborhood I work in is not the safest. Neighbors warned us to be careful going to and from our cars – especially at night. Crime happens in Chicago. And yes, statistically speaking, it’s a rough neighborhood. I just don’t think it really sunk home until today.
We often will take our kids to a nearby playground for a little exercise. We were wandering over there on this crunchy sparkling fall morning, approaching the underpass before the playground when a firetruck pulled around the bend. It slowed, the driver glanced at me, did a double-take, stopped the ladder truck in the middle of the street and hopped out.
“Whatcha doing here?”
“Just headed to the park for a little while.”
“Ya’ll live around here?”
“Just down the street…”
“Well, be careful out there. It’s a rough neighborhood.”
And with that, he was back in the cab, and they were off.
I smiled, grateful for someone looking out for me, and realized the mix of emotions that hearkened back to my time in Rio. It was practically the same reaction I’d get when I would tell someone I met where I lived. “Manguinhos? Jacare? That’s up in the Gaza strip!”
Memories surface: walking down the street towards the Metro and noticing a police car driving down the road, shoulders tensing, forcing myself to walk casual, not speed up or look suspicious, knowing that just by being myself in this neighborhood I’ve already tripped their threshold for “not-rightness.” Anticipating another conversation having to justify myself, explain that I’m not a drug dealer or a tourist looking for some adventures along with my chemically induced good times, respond kindly and compassionately and full of grace for the men who are supposed to protect this city, but may have been the ones who shot up my neighborhood the night before, and are now patting me down on the side of the road at gunpoint… It didn’t happen every day – but it happened enough.
I thought I’d left that feeling behind when I moved – the mix of embarrassment at being picked out, understanding because on some level I don’t fit in where I’m at, compassion and frustration and rueful laughter and a hint of anger and recognition that thanks to my hair color and skin tone and gender I am distinctly privileged in the way that authority relates to me, and I didn’t ask for this…
But this is the way it is. Which brings us to my question… In light of this reality, how will I respond? How will I live? What will I do today, and tomorrow, and the day after that? Because it’s little moments like today that remind me of the reality of the brokenness of this neighborhood, of this city, of this country, of this world… And it’s moments like this that remind me how desperately we need hope – people who point towards hope, who live and breathe hope, who remind us that no matter the way things are, this is not the way things were meant to be. Resurrection lies just over the hill. So keep your head up…