Last year, Parenting Magazine gave our small city of Wilmington, Delaware a rating as the Number 1 worst place to raise your children:
A short drive from South Philly and Camden and midway between New York and Washington, Wilmington managed to snag the number one spot on our list for highest rate of violent crimes per 100,000 people. And while the overall state of Delaware ranked moderately well in the peace index (which looked at factors such as police per capita, percentage of population behind bars and access to small arms), Wilmington came in the top spot for sex offenders per capita.
It is not a glorious list, nor is it even statistically accurate (other cities listed include St. Louis and Orlando). It is, however, still profoundly disturbing to find your city’s name at the top of such a list. These are not the sorts of credentials my residency program, either on the pediatrics or the internal medicine side, would like to publicize much. Every time I mention them at residency interview dinners, there is an awkward silence before someone hastily interjects, “But you don’t have to live in those areas. Dave chooses to live there.” We all laugh, myself loudest of all. My friends are right: no one is obligated to live here, and few people who are here would choose to stay.
On my first day moving in, a kid from the block told me bluntly, “Nobody wants to move into the North Side.” Imagine that: an eight-year old child growing up knowing that his neighborhood is both despised and rejected. In fact, our neighborhood is nicknamed “the bucket” precisely because nobody leaves, and not by choice. I hear this is because of a tightly-knit culture that says, “You want to leave because you think you’re better than us? You can’t. You aren’t.” Indeed, the rumor surrounding the shooting death of a 16-year-old boy only two weeks ago is simply that he snitched. How stupid that such deaths occur.
As part of my pediatric training, I spent a month watching sporadic forensic interviews of children who had witnessed a crime, either by watching assaults, being assaulted, or being abused themselves. I thought about the kids I see every day playing and running around the streets. I looked up my short block on the public registry, unnerved to find it peppered with warnings and pictures of neighbors I knew, had talked to, and built friendships with.
If our neighborhoods are only abstractions, only the caricatures of violence and abuse and fear we see in the headlines, we are right to wonder why would anyone choose to live here. The most frequent questions people ask me are, “Why do you live there?” followed by “Would you raise a family there?” According to Parenting Magazine, I shouldn’t. According to the kids I talk to, the ones who tell me, “I know you make bank,” or “Your pockets be swoll,” I shouldn’t. According to my own sensibilities, I shouldn’t. And some days, I don’t really have a great answer; on those days, it’s a matter of pride or vague paternalistic intentions or sheer insanity. But on most days, like tonight, I am reminded of what a neighborhood means by having one of them willing to sit at dinner and listen to me rant and tell cathartic stories of dying patients. On most days, I see kids waving hello or even just playing freely on the concrete sidewalks. I see people laughing and chatting loosely. I am getting to know more of them as friends. I realize they have much to teach me about being aware of others, of the complex language of rights and respect and forgiveness, of the rule of men and the sovereignty of God.
In the last post, I referenced a friend’s blog who has been living here much longer than I. She has another entry that is less verbose but far more powerful than mine, written a few days after the Newtown shooting:
Nothing like a snow day to get you caught up on your blog writing.
And I have delayed in reporting several God-at-work stories.
Last Monday my children showed up for camp with this question:
“Ms. Kristin, did you hear about the shooting?”
We spent a few minutes discussing what had happened, some kids weren’t aware of the shooting in Connecticut.
Fortunately, a co-worker had told me that the school in Conn. was collecting paper snowflakes to decorate their building. I knew my kids would enjoy the activity and would love being able to send the hurting students something.
The children and teens had to teach snowflake making since I’d gotten a bit rusty in my old age.
They made some truly beautiful and original snowflakes. Before homework time, we circled up and prayed for our friends in Connecticut.
I wish you could have heard these prayers. The words of these young ones were moving and beautiful. I felt the presence of God moving in their prayers and refreshing my soul with hope and peace.
“God, please forgive the person who made the bad choice.”
“God, please heal the people who got shot and bring them back to life.”
I thank God for the hope that we have in Christ. He said that in this world we’re going to have trouble, but we can take heart, He has already overcome.
That’s the hope we have.
Hope that doesn’t disappoint. Hope in the power of prayer. Forgiveness. Healing.
I thank God that we have hope.
Father, God, we do continue to lift up those hurting in Connecticut. Jesus, You promised to send the Counselor to teach, comfort, and guide. We claim that promise for them and pray that You would do an amazing work in releasing fear, anger, bitterness, and despair. Father, we pray for joy and hope in You for each person. We know that Your perfect love has the power to cast out fear, so we pray that prayer for them, that each one would know Your perfect love. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.
Why am I here? I am looking for Jesus. I am looking for hope. Scripture tells me that both of those are found in places like Wilmington. I am happy to say that Scripture is right.
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ – Jesus (Matthew 25: The Message)