Saturday, July 19, 2008

Have I Told You Lately... much I love our neighbourhood?

I am in love with our front porch. I love sitting there and saying hi to neighbour Dave and neighbour Sue in their comings and goings. I love chatting with Barb and Arnie as they go on their daily walks, and thanking Arnie as he, once again, cuts four houses worth of front lawns, including ours. I love talking to the guy who slowly walks his Golden Retriever at least twice a day. And the man who always compares reno notes with Jeff. We don't know his name, but his dog goes by the name "Shadow." And the guy around the corner on Albert Street, who acts like the neighbourhood security guard, regularly patrolling the streets. He promises to give us his grandson's toys once he's done with them. Some days I even have a soft spot for Tony, who jealously eyes "his" parking spot on George Street, and who works on his Dodge Ram as though he owns a garage, when he doesn't even have a driveway.

In short, I love being a part of this community.

I also love that here on George Street, we are not insulated from the hurts of society. In addition to the above folks, I also say hello to the intimidating teens who live on the corner. I say hello to the young, pregnant moms who walk the streets with 7-11 Big Gulps in hand. I see the crackheads, whose screams sometimes wake us in the night. And I talk to the one who regularly asks me for spare change and for the time. I watch rather dishevelled looking men and women trudge to and from the beer store with their granny carts and wagons being pulled behind them. And although I could do without the resident crack houses, I don't feel frightened by these folk. In fact, I find that when I just take the time to talk to them, they're just like me. A little worse for the wear, perhaps, but not much else. And more than anything else, I see it when we connect over little Kaiya. No matter what the age, social class, upbringing, drug of choice, a baby somehow is able to bridge the differences. We all coo at her the same and talk about how important it is to enjoy her baby-ness while it lasts.

I get so frustrated at churches who have programs to reach out to "these people." The churches that most frustrate me are all generally located in nice, white, upper middle class neighbourhoods, and the people who attend them and volunteer in these programs pat themselves on the backs for "helping the poor." Now I admit that many of these programs have been set up with good intentions. People really do want to help. I know I can't dismiss them all with one keystroke. I guess what frustrates me more is individuals' attitudes of "not in my backyard." They drive to their church, ladle out some bowls of soup, and drive back home. They are content to do their part as long as it doesn't interfere with their lives. As long as they don't have to question their way of doing things. As long as they can continue to live their happy, insulated lives.

I have some questions for folks like these:
-when was the last time you really talked, and really listened to the people you're trying to help? I mean, without wincing at the curse words, or trying to correct what you perceive as faulty theology?
-when was the last time you let the problems and pain of the people you're trying to help go deep? I mean, deep to the point that you felt it yourself, and it made you question your norms, your priorities, and society's methods of dealing with these hurts?

And for all of us: Why is it that our collective goal in life seems to be to move AWAY from the hurting parts? It's like as soon as we make some money, the first thing we do is buy a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom house with a big fence in a nice subdivision. And we try to protect our kids from "the bad people." What are we afraid of? I know of plenty of kids in suburbia who ended up on crack, pregnant, with an alcohol problem. Something tells me it's not where you live, but how you live. And if we're really interested in helping the down and out of society, why don't we plunk ourselves right down amongst them? Walk with them, talk with them. Teach our children street smarts instead of just trying to shield them from the seedier sides of life. Teach them to have an open heart, that is willing to question.

That's my soapbox for today. Yes, I'm an idealist. And I will bloody well hold onto that idealism as long as I can. I just don't see how all this segregation does anyone any good. Let's keep questioning, keep doubting, keep stretching ourselves. Let's not label people just so that we can avoid having to think about what their lives present to us.

Have a great weekend, folks!


Rose said...

Oh Kathy it's so hard...I 100% agree with everything you've said, and do plan to join you in the down part of town. I sometimes wonder if I'm going to be able to keep it up when it doesn't just affect me, but also my kids, which I guess you're starting to experience. For example, when it means sending them to a crappy school, where no one actually wants to teach, and all their friends (not just the people they run into) are into unmentionable things. And all this when there's a lovely school with wonderful teachers and programs and supplies just "on the other side of the fence"...I will hold on to my idealism for dear life for as long as I can. But when I look ahead, I honestly wonder how I'll face these questions...

James said...

Woah, woah, Kathy. On a bit of a high horse there, aren't you. Be careful you don't become bitter and as removed/condescending as the people you are accusing.

I mean, you are for sure living a life of acceptance and community. One to be admired for sure. But don't be so quick to dismiss the help that others are trying to provide. And don't try to tell me you've made some sort of jump into the abyss of "the street." You and I grew up in the country, and have been inundated with suburban values our whole lives. It's not that easy just to throw that away and say "I've arrived, I'm street smart." The question I ask you and myself is how do you propose we teach our kids street smarts when we're really just as stupid as the next suburban yokel?

Gosh, I could probably write a few pages of response to this post. I like the questions you are asking, Kathy, and your fiery response to the lazy suburbanite. But just be careful you don't swing too far one way. Suburbanites need help too. Don't alienate them.

gypsy said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. I feared sounding "on my high horse." Pre-baby, I had more time to contemplate and edit my ideas before posting. Post-baby, not so much.

I think what prompted me to write these ideas was some comments I had heard from Christians recently with the "not in my backyard" mentality. I get very frustrated by the "us" and "them" dichotomy. But you're right. It would be easy to swing the other way and create yet another "us" and "them" dichotomy.

I'm sorry if I sounded like I've arrived. I don't think that. I just like our porch, and the community that we're enjoying. I should be more careful in going from the individual experience to the sweeping statements.

mariaborito said...

yet again…we are experiencing very similar things. for me it's a love/hate experience. i miss the country. the seclusion. the quiet. but i love the commotion, the diversity, the community i live in. i wish i could have both!

Erika said...

i think the idea is to treat all people as equals. it really doesn't matter where you live because everyone is human and is in one way or another suffering. the 'poor' among us are more visible with their pain. they literally wear it on their sleeve or on their arm. to be in a place of acceptance no matter who the person is that you're relating to is to me the goal. i surely feel like i have the best of all w0rlds because, of course, my heart is for the poor and fringe people so i feel so fortunate that my job lets me be there with them. then i do get to go home to a beautiful house on our little island and live with my neighbours. who, also live with so much pain, rejection and loneliness. sometimes as you know, i literally have to run into the house before my dear neighbor karen gets to call out to me. i believe its all in the heart. are we open to those that are in our path? do we judge them for being rich or poor? do we love them for what they are? yes, james, i guess we could all write pages on this. thanks kathy for getting a good discussion going.