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Friday, November 23, 2007

Faith and Fear

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends. We enjoyed great food and conversation, even some friendly political arguments, without the tension those discussions can cause at family gatherings. Everyone’s children played well together, and at the end of the meal we huddled around a patio fire-pit to toast marshmallows and drink Slibovitz, in honor of our Serbian hostess and her father. It was in the warmth of fluttering flames and full stomachs that the city-dwellers started talking about the spike in crime in our section of the city. This morning that conversation is still heavy in me, like last night’s pecan pie.

There has always been crime in the city. In fact we got robbed twice within our first few months here. But lately the stories have been increasing, like our city’s murder rate during the last few years. One of the guests told of having his new house broken into twice. Other stories rose up. A friend of ours was held up at gun point walking down a street where those sorts of things don’t normally occur. Then, in the same neighborhood, a man was held up while walking his dog. Because he didn’t have any money the robber shot and killed the dog, an incident I’ve heard repeated many times now from different parties. People seem to be talking about the dog more than the police officer who was killed a few weeks ago when he intercepted a man robbing a Dunkin Donuts. I don’t know why a shot dog is talked about more than the 30 murders that took place in our city last month. Is it because it is a more unusual image than a shot person, or simply because it happened in an area my friends and I frequent, and therefore brings the violence closer to home? Surely 30 murders in a month should disturb us more than the death of one dog, but somehow the statistics are hard to grasp, so people repeat the dog story.

I have mixed reactions to these stories. An important part of my faith journey has been about trusting God and not getting hooked by fear. Still, this morning I left the gym half an hour early because I had an irrational need to rush home and check on my sleeping children. (I sometimes find it difficult to distinguish an intuition to protect them from an irrational fear, though when I get a reassuring intuition I always trust it.) Then I felt annoyed with myself for cutting my workout short and wondered if it was last night’s stories that made me feel insecure. Anything can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere, but I don’t want to live my life always thinking about worst-case scenarios. I’ll lock my house and my car, but I don’t want to lock my spirit, which I think can happen to people when they get too crime obsessed.

As the parent of a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old, I am becoming increasingly aware of the dual nature of my job. In evolutionary terms I am driven to help them survive long enough to make me a grandmother and hopefully outlive me. But the other side of that job is that I have to teach them to be independent enough to survive without me, and that can only come with a certain amount of freedom. Unfortunately concerns about crime make contemporary parents err on the side of protection, often at the expense of independence. When I was ten, a friend and I often wandered alone through the woods near Valley Green (a city park). I think those early experiences of nature were an important part of my spiritual growth as well as my environmental concern. My daughter has also spent time in the woods, but never alone, which is the only way to really hear the birds and the wind in the trees. I wonder how much she is missing and how far I can let her wander without being irresponsible.

But this is all about me and my family and how the fear of crime affects us. How much worse for the families living in the neighborhoods where the 30 murders took place? I suspect that in those communities, people wouldn’t get so worked up about a dog. I’m still not sure what I can do to help people in those neighborhoods, except to keep remembering that they are my neighbors, as are the young men with guns, including the one who shot the dog. In the end I realize that trust and compassion go hand in hand. It’s not so much that I should walk around the city in denial of what can happen, but that I have to continue seeking that of God in everyone I meet, even if that person is someday a mugger. I’ve heard at least a few stories of that working better than mace, anyway.

This morning a family friend, who is both a teacher of Torah and a social activist, called to wish us a happy Thanksgiving. I asked him how his holiday was and he replied, “We have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to still work for.” Amen.


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