Sunday, September 16, 2012

a 'brutiful' day in the neighbourhood

My neighbourhood:  it's where I live, where my husband works, it's where a lot of our friends live.  Some days we don't drive our car at all, we have such close access to people and places that we love.  We've lived here 18 months or so and it's feeling like home.

Glennon Melton, who writes at the brilliantly honest blog Momastery, uses the word 'brutiful' to describe much of life.  Life is beautiful.  And life is brutal.  That's just how it is right now - we can be honest, in the same hours we celebrate and we grieve.

My neighbourhood is brutiful.

The other morning I walked with my two children around these streets.  You know those days where you need to get outside as soon as possible, even before 9 because either the day is so lovely or your children are so snotty-nosed and unhappy?  Yes, both of those, so we went.  And at the very top of the alley near us we found this:

Beautiful, hey?  A little garden hung on a chain link fence next to a deserted old service station.  The soil was moist; someone was caring for the flowers and there were greens growing as well.

It's the same alley where, only two weeks before, I saw a man chasing a woman.  I had been watching them as he yelled at her while standing at a phone booth together and she started to walk away.  He followed her, yelling more, and I was alone, just with my baby on my back out walking on a Sunday afternoon.  No one else was really around, so, when I could see her actually jogging away and him following quickly, I called the police.  She wasn't calling for help, but I just couldn't stand by and not do anything, and within a few minutes I heard police sirens, although I couldn't see the man and woman anymore.  Had he noticed the garden as he chased her?

Yesterday afternoon I saw that same woman, tall, lean and exploited, pacing quickly - I'm pretty sure she was waiting for someone to pick her up, to give her money so he could degrade her body like countless people in her life before.  I smiled at her but she was focused and didn't see me.  At least she is still alive.

My neighbourhood is starting to bloom with these quirky shops - the abandoned buildings wearing ancient 'For Lease' signs in their broken windows are hinting at resurrection.  The newest is a vintage clothing store, really cool and with decent prices - yesterday I was walking with my kids and we stared in the windows (it was closed) and I asked Saf which dresses he liked.  (He liked them all.)  A few strides later and Saf yells 'Harow!!' to a woman who smiles at him and answers with matched enthusiasm.  I ask her how she is, I pretend I don't know she's selling her body, I see our common womanness, our shared intrinsic value.   

Sometimes I can't handle the men driving around in their cars, slowing down until they notice the baby on my back.  They are so predictable, drive to the end of our street slowly, make a U-turn and drive back up.  The demand for prostitution is much greater than the supply around here.  I want to flip them off, I call them a pervert under my breath and then confess that they too are worthy of love and belonging, even they have unsurpassable worth.  I know it's true and barely any of me wants to say it, but I do.  Last night my husband and I were walking with our children past the pub on the corner, the one with a 'waitress' on Friday nights.  It was 5pm, still very much light out and I saw her serving the men who were outside in the back, walking in only tiny black underwear with a tray in her hand.  My heart swung between sadness for her and disgust at the men headed in the door, plain old anger at the whole world - that pub is maxed out on Friday nights, a block from my home.

This is the same neighborhood where my new friend left a bag of fruit for me hanging on her door - she was en route to the Middle East on holiday to visit family there and she hadn't had time to drop it at my house, could I please come pick it up.  In the past couple of weeks I've met two new friends at the park, their own babies in tow, and they both gave me their numbers - house numbers, I was welcome to stop over sometime.  And I have, friendship surprising me around the corner again.

Our next door neighbours greet Safran multiple times a day.  He stands on the stairs yelling 'ALAN!!! ALAN!!!' when the white-haired English man isn't there to tell him G'day and ask if he's been a good boy.  (He has.)  Neville, who claimed he couldn't understand my accent although he listened to American country music on the internet a lot, calls Saf his 'little mate'.  The dogs along our alley don't bark at us, even though they are the very loudest and scariest barking kinds of dogs.  I guess that's how you know you're home.

It's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood, and it's a brutal day again.  A microcosm of the rest of the world I guess, our few streets and the stories that roam them - structures of life and health inextricably intertwined with structures of injustice and exploitation; people who abuse others to medicate their own pain crossing paths daily with those who give love to neighbours at cost to themselves.  It's too easy to yell 'good guys' and 'bad guys' as my own heart shows me I am not too far off the man searching for sex in the middle of the day -the selfishness, the longing for an easy intimacy, sometimes treating people like they exist only for me, the self-hatred and fear of exposure. 

We all need each other to become what we're meant to be - ubuntu - 'your well-being is extremely connected to my well-being'.  I understand this now, on these streets and I see our stories all tangled up together.   The 2 am pub fights, used condoms in the park grass, the misogyny and beautiful exploited women in transcience, my own resistance to forgiveness towards those I love the most - we suffer here together.  Shop owners giving my children bananas, kindness is exchanged over neighbourly moments, a community of friends sharing the daily joy and pain, flower pots hang lively on fences as the morning sun sings mercy - together we are healed.

My son greets everyone we see - his eyes are clear to the beauty.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see the image of God in us all.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. looooove you words and stories dear honest becca.

    1. thanks abigail. and thanks for the lovely long email. wish we could share thoughts face to face. xx

  2. you are such a good writer, you know? this helped me immensely today. only 6 days into our new neighborhood and i am already overwhelmed by the fear and wonder of it all. thanks for giving me some courage to look toward to the future. when the big dogs start barking at us, i will know we are home.

    1. aw, thanks DL. there's nothing like american inner-city neighbourhoods (for joy AND pain). glad to hear that you made it and hope you can hang up metaphorical (and real??) curtains soon!!