Sunday, April 09, 2006

When Jesus is your neighbor

We love our 1910 Victorian home--each room is filled with personality, and there is tremendous potential for the future. Our yard, though very, very small, also reflects the years of work Matt, in particular, has put into it. Living downtown in an up and coming suburban Boston commuter town has its advantages. We can travel on foot to the commuter rail, the YMCA, the local zoo, and a series of parks are in easy walking distance. Given that we are in southeastern Massachusetts, I should also note that we can comfortably walk to three Dunkin' Donuts. City government continues to threaten that new life will come to town, and we are hopeful that if we sit tight, our home will soon be the place to live!

So what's not to like? Why do we wonder some days if we will live in our home for another month, much less another 5-10 years? Our neighborhood.... We have few connections and relationships, and the transient renter population that occupies most of our street doesn't help for commitment to community life. Though our yard is small (1/10 of an acre), it is 1/10 of an acre more than any of the neighboring apartment buildings; kids play regularly on the street, eliciting varied states of annoyance depending on the day/night and the neighbor throwing glares out toward the street corner. Drug sales seem to be down--a plus, given that we were regular callers to the local police department in our first two years in the house. Most troublesome, though? Three known sex offenders live within a half a mile of our home. If you are family and know our address, you can visit this website to get their color photographs. We will soon be posting them for the benefit of babysitters, and perhaps we will again be known to the local 911, though we certainly hope not.... We console ourselves by saying, "Better to know who they are than to live in a supposedly safe cul de sac, unaware of the upper middle class neighbor who is silently molesting the neighborhood children," but it is unnerving to teach your four year old daughter she must ride her bike to the back of the house when person X is walking down the street. (It goes without saying that neither child is ever outdoors on their own; grown-up chaperones are required at every turn!)

We have considered at length what it means to live in this neighborhood, where obviously a larger number of the fringe element of society can find affordable housing. As much as we love being able to live a walkers' life, there are many who must walk of necessity. If you can't afford car or bus transportation, our street is a great place to live. Just over the fence from us is a large apartment building that seems, for the most part, well-maintained, and the building seems to draw friendly, responsible neighbors. The couple with whom we essentially share a yard (both patches of grass are small enough that the fence is a mere formality implying privacy where there is none) have rented this particular apartment for a couple of years. They have two cats and a dog whom our children adore. We appreciate getting pets without the responsibility. One of them has a grandson just a bit older than Lucas, so we occasionally have him over to play when he is visiting. Our relationship is cordial, and though our conversation rarely extends past the weather, I feel as though they look out for us and we for them. Though their space is small, they often host friends seemingly down on their luck. Some days there is a steady stream of new faces stopping in to get under a roof for the night, escape a drunken significant other, or take a hot shower. I get nervous sometimes, knowing both the potential for risk with unknown people just over the chain link fence, and of course I am perpetually uncomfortable with everyone standing outside smoking. (We estimate 90% of our neighbors smoke; this is not an exaggeration. Imagine trying to convince your child that this is not an okay possibility for her future when she is surrounded by the act as normal and prevalent.) Matt and I often wish we could pick our house up from the foundation and drive it to a more predictable, middle class neighborhood; we feel like the cigarettes, the sex offenders and the shifty neighborhood visitors are a potential danger to our kids, and our responsibility, first and foremost, is to keep them safe.

When I separate the question of our young, impressionable children, however, our neighborhood intrigues me. On multiple occasions I have carelessly left the minivan unlocked in the driveway with a portable DVD player sitting just inside. I have sometimes left my keys stuck in the lock when trying to get myself, two snowpants-clad kids and a load of groceries in through the back door. I have even been known to drop my wallet unknowingly just outside the car, only to go out hours later and make the surprise discovery. (I'm knocking on wood as I say this and voicing many a silent prayer....) We have never experienced any sort of break-in or threat, despite that we live in just the sort of neighborhood where this would likely happen. Sure, the drug dealer across the street was stabbed once, but it was far down the street near Dunkin' Donuts #1, and the police have responded quickly on those rare occasions when we have felt the need to call. When I think about where Jesus might live if he came to our town tomorrow, I'm quite certain he would stop first at our neighbors just over the fence. While Matt and I like to imagine ourselves among the faithful, I suspect we would be the pious members of established religions that Jesus would be calling out. From all I've read of Jesus, he would feel most at home with the workers next door, drinking a few too many beers before heading home on a Friday evening. (I don't know that Jesus would partake; these guys just seem like his crowd.) He might rent a room at the boarding house down the block serving presently as a safe haven for one of the known sex offenders. Occasionally he might wander into one of those safe cul de sacs, calling out warnings and urging a change in direction, but I suspect he would be picked up quickly by our city's finest and carted back downtown. Despite my daily consideration of how I might live as Jesus did, and my regular admiration of his inclusivity, I suspect he actually made a pretty annoying neighbor....always hanging with that fringe element and making himself at home with those neighbors who make us most uncomfortable. Though I still believe my call to keep my children safe is my first priority, and I'll make future choices in accordance with this call, this neighborhood is a living example of the radical Jesus I believe walked the earth. And if he really is to come again, I suspect we're living with a front row seat for some of the houses he would be first to visit.

1 comment:

GrampaPeter said...

Inspiring and touching.. reminds me of the Good Samaritan parable - read it and see just who IS the Good Samaritan?? You are, despite obvious difficulties in the neighborhood, are living precisely where Jesus WOULD have lived..and you do make a difference - Your home and family are a bright spot in that neighborhood...and just might make a shining example to others...