It has been about a year since we moved out of the “inner city.” It’s an experience we are still processing with many mixed feelings, among them relief, disappointment, and shame. It is a relief to be able to walk around the block without fear of hearing gunshots, to sleep at night with working heat and running water in the winter (since the pipes don’t freeze here), to not wake to banging noises wondering if we are being broken into. It is disappointing to feel isolated in our rented apartment, that even though our neighbors are friendly and engaging, our interactions tend to be brief and largely disconnected. And shame… I am still not sure why we feel that but we do.
I haven’t exercised in several years. Really, the only time I run these days is when someone is literally dying. I run to Code Blues in the hospital. I run to stat messages on my 1980’s style pager. And that’s about it.
It’s shameful. I’m a physician who routinely counsels children and adults about the benefits of exercise and the importance of maintaining a “healthy lifestyle”. Consequently, I often feel like a hypocrite because I grouse and mutter and make excuses when my wife encourages me to do something active. It’s ironic because most people who see and know me shake their heads and say that I should gain several pounds.
We stared at the piece of plastic and sank into the futon. Positive. We were sure of it even as our minds struggled to grasp the enormity and totality of its meaning. Positive. Were we ready for this, for anything? Positive. We were going to be parents.
One month ago, I went ahead and made one of the biggest, strangest, and uncharacteristically bold changes of my life. People asked me if I was crazy, warned me about being dramatic or unstable, and expressed skepticism, curiosity, and general bewilderment about my decision. In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made, since each day brings me a new story and hints that the life I once knew was not the life I was made for. It seems almost natural, with each passing day I am here, to believe that this is the way we should all live, though I am willing to give it more time to see the truth in that.
What did I do? I moved from a nice, single apartment near the hospital I work at and into a row house in the inner city where my patients live. I moved out of a fully furnished site with laundry and Fios and easy access to every modern convenience into a shared house and a room like my college dorm except smaller, without air conditioning, and with plenty of cockroaches and a gas leak that’s worse every time it rains. I moved away from neighbors I loved who were fellow physicians in training and into a house on a block where the neighbors shrug and freely confess they deal drugs to “make ends meet”, hold vigils in my back parking lot for gangsters who were shot, and are crazy enough to try my home cooking. I moved away from everything that was comfortable and safe into a world of rumors and sensational reputations and risk.
I thought I was going to write this blog to show off how daring and cavalier I am, but it really is just to share my daily struggle to overcome my fear of small things like the dark. I thought I was going to write about thugs and hoodlums, but there are only honest people, funny people, warm and tragic and open hearted people, understandable people here. I thought I came here to embrace the suffering and the lost, but am finding that it was I who needed a home.
I hope you enjoy the company you find here.