The other night as I walked to choir practice in the evening, people in our neighborhood were out on the sidewalks,their porches and their porch roofs. It was the first evening when it was warm enough to be out in shirtsleeves into the evening and people were taking full advantage!
As I walked the three blocks to church I was reminded again how much I love this neighborhood. It’s small and old, and these days has more students, and artistic types than the working class people who founded it. It’s still friendly though and somewhat nosy and (because most of the houses are at least a century old and don’t have central air), it’s the kind of place where neighbors hang out on their porches on fine summer evenings and the old lady across the street fusses at the children when she thinks they’re misbehaving.
I like that. I like that I know many of my neighbors (in a space five blocks long and three wide) by sight and name. The children know even more of them, including the busboy from the restaurant on the corner, the mailman (who gets mobbed everyday by children eager to see “what’s in the mail”), and several of our neighborhood homeless or semi-homeless who go about looking for cans and other scrap, or doing the occasional odd-job. I think nothing of walking home after choir practice on a winter’s night and the children play in the alley behind our house and on the cul-de-sac. They call out to people walking their dogs, or biking by and are developing a sense of the diversity of people in the world.
This does occasion discussions about choices people have made (language can be a bit rough, and pot and alcohol are widely used). I would rather talk about these things (even this young) than have them grow up ignorant of the ways in which the brokenness of the world plays out in people’s lives. I want the children to understand from an early age that people whom we love and admire can do stupid and even sinful things, and while that may lessen our admiration for them it shouldn’t diminish our love. I want them to see this world in all of it’s beauty (like my middle-aged redneck neighbor who grumbles about the neighborhood no longer being white, but carefully crushes and saves his cans for an elderly black scavenger) and it’s brokenness and to do what they can do to heal it. I want them to inhabit their landscape fully, to be present in the micro-world in which they find themselves, while never losing sight of the global picture. This neighborhood almost demands that sense of place, one cannot live in isolation here and for the children’s sake and my own I am thankful.