“Are you ready yet?” my new neighbor shouts into the open door to his girlfriend. He’s ringing the doorbell impatiently to get her to hurry. Meanwhile, I can hear his toddler crying in his stroller.
“What do you want?!” he yells sharply to the kid.
It’s the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday. I’m in my back yard, hanging laundry on the line in the sunshine. I’m trying to sing to Lydia, who sits and babbles in her own stroller near me. I just sing nonsense — “Oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’, oh my darlin’ . . . ”
“Cool it, you dumb f**k!” my neighbour’s girlfriend finally shouts back as she emerges from the apartment. I can’t hear what they’re arguing about as they walk off together, the baby still moaning in the stroller.
I want out.
I want to get out of this neighbourhood.
We have three new families living in the new apartment building next to our house. It was just built over the winter because the previous building, which formerly housed an assortment of drug-dealers and migrant workers, burned down two summers ago. The police hinted that they suspected arson when we were down at the office a few weeks later, following up on the recent break-in of Ben’s work trailer.
We have an abandoned house across from us which has a habit of losing its front door from time to time. I’m not sure who keeps hanging it back up. Next to us is a big empty field filled with waist-high weeds where trucks come to pick up or drop off loads of unwanted dirt and gravel. Down the street, another house grows a two-foot-tall front lawn every summer, and further down is another abandoned house which is all but collapsing. Around the corner from us is another home that caught fire last winter. The windows and doors are all still boarded up. I heard that the tenets had been trying to keep warm with electric heaters when their gas was cut off.
I don’t want my daughter growing up among all this.
I don’t want her hanging out with the boy next door whose parents refer to each other in four-letter expletives. I assume he and the rest of the neighbourhood will be a bad influence on her, and I’m terrified.
What I’m afraid to acknowledge is the possibility that we ought to stay because she might be a good influence on them.
We’re too quick to assume that evil will conquer good instead of the other way around — that a neglected boy’s hurt will spill over onto our beloved daughter’s innocence, rather than her sweetness work the other way around on him.
(I’m also too quick to assume that the boy will turn out badly while our daughter will turn out well, just because we use our curse words more sparingly).
My desire to leave this shabby, broken-down neighbourhood filled with poor and troubled families is exactly the opposite of Jesus’ impulse, which was to sink himself into the lives of the abused and down-trodden. Jesus seems to have sought out the drunks, the unfaithful spouses, the folks on welfare. Those seemed to be his favourite kinds of people. They’re the ones he chose to live with and eat dinner with.
The Jesus-y thing to do would be to stay, and to actually get to know these people who curse at their kids and leave cheap Christmas wreaths and garlands on their doors until mid-March. The Jesus-y thing to do would be to strike up a conversation one of these days, and maybe offer to babysit their kids while they get their groceries.
But I’m so scared. I’m scared to get tangled in the lives of people so different from me. They seem so threatening with their foul language and loud, booming music.
I don’t know if I have the courage to stay. But I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus would do.
Photo credit: cindy47452. This id not a house from our neighbourhood, but it doesn’t look too far off.