Friday, November 2, 2012

Our neighbors

Reflecting on some of the biggest challenges to compassion in the suburbs has me thinking about my neighbors, especially since we participated in trick-or-treating yesterday. I feel like an outsider when it comes to Halloween; neither the 'all ghouls' camp nor the 'fall fest only' camp create a good fit for our family. We participate because:
  • this is the surrounding culture. It's now second to Christmas in decorating costs, with an average of $80/person spent. Participating in small ways helps us teach our kids about it in a 'This is what others do' way.
  • this is the surrounding culture. Nobody carols door to door anymore. Other than a block party, it's a rare time each year for neighbors to be out together in the neighborhood.
  • we try to use any and every occasion we can to learn our neighbors faces, names, and a little more about them.


Trekking to the end of the street and back, A tested her own (and my knowledge) of neighbors' names.
"Who lives here?"
"What does Melissa like to do?"
"I'm not sure. Let's talk to her and find out."

Seriously, she comes up with this on her own. She's always loved people and knowing their names from as early as she could say Mama, Papa, Grandma, and Rocky... at 10 months. She's good at recognizing people in unusual contexts (like wearing a costume or face make-up). At 31.5 months, she remembered specific things about 6 of the neighbors we don't see all the time at the park or playing: going all the way back in her memory to when she was 19 months old.

I hit about a 70% success rate in naming our neighbors, and about 90% success working with A to remember where she's met or seen those neighbors before. We had extended porch conversations with about 5 neighbors. This is quite good, because we just hit the two year anniversary of moving to this neighborhood!

Examining the stash. Lollipops are her favorite.

Faces, or willing blindness

Four blocks to the north is a street of Section 8 apartments, missionary furlough apartments, and settled refugee apartments. When we meet them at the two parks closest to us, A always joins in as she can, or watches the intense soccer matches.

I notice, but A has never asked about, their dirty and torn clothes; the silver filings or lack of dental care; that there's rarely an adult around to supervise as kids ages 2-10 roam together. I go back and forth in my head. I want her to see these kids as she would any other kid. I want to give these kids the grace of not having aspects they may be ashamed of pointed out, to have the grace of playing like any other kid... because toddlers don't have social filters. On the other hand, Christ followers are called to see need and meet it. To stand in the gap of inequality and point it out to the blind.

There's a lot of willing self-blindness in our neighborhood and town.
"These kids aren't from our neighborhood. They run wild getting all the candy."
"I don't walk down that street."
"Seeing that dirty homeless man at the library entrance creeps me out. It's not safe for kids. Who knows what he does in the bathroom? So I use the one in the kids' department. Surely he doesn't go in there."
"I can't believe they fish the retention pond. Those fish can't be all that good for them."
Our library's outdoor bench. Is this necessary?
No joke, my neighbors have said these things. How would you respond?

So, when the kids from the street to the north show up at our door, we give them Halloween candy like all the other kids. We point out to our kids that this boy plays soccer at the park on the corner all the time and we watch. We stop and help A notice the costumes and let her excitement pay a large compliment.
"Oh, a princess! And a turtle!" When they notice our infant son and say he's cute, we respond, "All babies are beautiful. You were a beautiful baby, too, right?"

Boo! He was nice and toasty.
Halloween candy is small beans. And what if it's part of the vicious, broken snarl of inequality chaining people in the refugees home countries? And what if the kids in poverty have parents who can only find seasonal jobs for Halloween and Christmas? How do broken cycles get fixed?

A Profile of Immigrants in DuPage County, 2003, PDF. Can you believe this is the most current doc on the web I could find? Give it a read, some things may surprise you!

A Conversation

Talking with my husband about this last night, we ended up talking about choices. Teaching compassion to kids starts with how we treat one another in our home, then how we treat those with whom our lives intersect. But compassion also has to do with our near and far neighbors. In the suburbs, I can chose my neighbors. I can choose who I do not have to see.
See, our living situation is temporary. In the next two years, we will move and the choices are wide open. We could choose the best of all possible worlds: best neighborhood, best house, best school system, best everything. Or we could choose to live with or near brokenness. We could choose to live with those who have no choices. We could choose mediocre schools and a diverse population, and give our children more than ample opportunity to flex their Christ-follower wings when it comes to standing in the gap.

Pretty radical, and we ended up with a lot of 'what if's.'

1 comment:

  1. Eric and I struggle with some of what you said here as we consider where we might decide to eventually buy a house. I would love to talk to you guys more about it, maybe on "date night"?