Sometimes I don't like my neighbourhood, especially on Friday nights. I don't enjoy walking my two kids past the bar hosting "waitresses", the topless kind, or seeing men driving slowly up and down the street I live on, looking for sex. I didn't like it when the (hopefully) drunk man walked at the same pace as me from across the street, lifting his shirt up when I gave him the "please don't mess with me, sir" stare, (all the while I'm planning what I will shout/scream at him should he cross the street). I wouldn't miss the momentary heart palpitations, the feeling that my children and I aren't safe at 5:30pm as the sun shines bright. (I'm pretty sure we are, it just doesn't always feel that way.)
I'm not sure if us living here, on this street, is really making any kind of difference. Two years we've been here, I've watched quirky little businesses be born and close up their windows, I've seen women hang around for a few months and be gone, I think the bars are even getting more business than before, with university girls crowding outside, stumbling drunk and yelling at guys.
All I can think is that somehow this place is holy, just how it is. It's so holy that it deserves a witness: to it's blooming and dying, the coming and going of God's children, to see how the rain floods the streets, how the clouds are massive and white heading towards the ocean and the breeze is near constant and soft. We should take off our shoes.
And maybe it's just about my presence, the practice of being here. If you come and pick up a woman in your SUV, I will be walking by you with my double pram full with kids, and we will see you. As you walk into the bar with your buddies to lust over some topless women, I'll look you in the eyes as I pass by. I'm not trying to shame you or even judge you, I'm just trying to take a walk in my neighbourhood. This is where I live. The shalom of this place is all tangled up with my own.
I'll ask you, neighbour, if your cat is feeling any better today, I saw you trying to coax her down from our garage roof last evening. I'll stop in your shop and buy that elusive ingredient for tonight's dinner and ask you how you've survived here for fourty years, your business, your marriage. Tell me. How is your newest granddaughter? I know you're so proud of her. And if you are standing on the corner waiting for a man to come with some cash, I'll see you too; I'll smile and wave and we'll connect at least briefly, our eyes for sure but hopefully more.
I'm learning to be a better neighbour here, slowly. I'm learning to ask good questions, to linger a bit longer, to remember things from past conversations and let people know what's going on with us. I'm learning from the collective wisdom of years put in here without some grandious dreams of redemption. People are just here because they're here and that's a pretty good reason I reckon.
Sometimes I really, really want a little house and a yard with green grass under toddler feet. Sometimes I want a park free of graffitti and no drunk men urinating on the play equipment, no beer bottles or needles in the grass. I don't want my kids to witness sexploitation or see used condoms on the sidewalk or to overhear the shouting of expletives as a decade-long feud erupts from time to time.
But I do really want my kids to be apart of a neighbourhood: to know the names of shop owners and call the guys next door "big mate". I want my kids to know the way to their friends houses on foot, friends who look different than us, who might speak different languages and drink their coffee darker than us.
I want my kids to grow up praying for our street, not as some sentimental gesture but because that's where our own safety and sanity lies. No bar fights this weekend? We'll all sleep a bit more soundly. The shalom of this city is all wrapped up with ours.
This evening, friends brought us dinner: tender lamb in spiced rice, hummus and home-made baklava. They're about as different from us as you can get, her face covered, his eyes respectfully cast down from mine. They brought going away presents for the kids as we are headed to SE Asia soon, they knew exactly what my son is obsessed with these days. Our nations of origin have ideologies set against each other, we can't even get visas to each others homes. But here, it's different; we are neighbours, giving and receiving friendship, letting the webs of our little families get tangled up with each other. We don't have to, but we do. It's better this way.
Sometimes I don't like my neighbhourhood. And sometimes I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. Beauty and pain, like always, are wildly intertwined.
Tonight, at least for now, I'll take it all.