Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Charm City Love and Fear

After I wrote my last post, I received a concerned note from a friend who is a resident of the city I wrote that I was desperate to get away from in the midst of my downward spiral. I didn't think at all as I was writing before how that might come across to my old friends who lived there and members of our beloved former church that are pouring their hearts and souls into the restoration of that city. I believe that at least for their sakes, I have some explaining to do.

That city we lived in is Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America. It is a large east coast seaport city with a colorful history. It is a beautiful city, but it is also an ugly city. Many beautiful buildings of its past days of wealth and glory are now crumbling and boarded up. There are the places that tourists come to admire- the historical harbor, the old ships, the brick streets, the pubs, the party scene. There are the cute little neighborhoods of 1920's bungalows with stained-glass windows, and towering brick row-homes with exquisite curlicues and carvings at the top. There are famous universities of world renown, a burgeoning local food movement, roof top gardens, an extraordinary central library with a goldfish pond inside it, book stores, coffee shops, theaters, clubs, and fantastic museums. This city is home to a rich African-American culture. Many important black Americans- artists, musicians, writers, doctors, inventors, leaders- were born and raised here. There are also a wide variety of other cultures from around the world settled here. Any sort of food you want- you can find it in Baltimore. There is much, much to love. And that's just the external stuff. The people, the people! That's what I loved about Baltimore, more than anything else.

Baltimore was the first place I ever lived where I was a minority in terms of skin color. And I *loved* it. Growing up as a white girl in an upper-middle-class very very white suburb, I felt the color divide keenly when venturing out into a more diverse world. I felt foolish all the time, worried that I wasn't acting the right way around people that didn't look like me, that I would offend them and step on toes. But I love having friends that are different. We had lots of foreigners and exchange students constantly in my childhood home. It's kind of ridiculous that I felt like I knew how to act around someone from a completely different faraway culture but not around people that grew up in my own state speaking English. I think the main difference is that "my own" people had never enslaved or segregated themselves ancestors of the mostly European people that came to our home, and I was very worried that the misdoings of my people would be held against me, and rightly so, if I tried to reach out in friendship to a black person. There were a few exceptions to that here and there in my younger years, but generally when it came to black people I worried constantly about being offensive in some way... never very helpful when trying to develop a real friendship.

 Baltimore changed all that. We purposely sought out and found a church planting itself smack in the most racially and economically diverse location it could find. For the first time in my life I found myself worshiping regularly alongside real, live black people. And becoming friends with them. And discovering that they didn't have any reservations about being friends with me because of my skin color. I have to admit, I was delighted as could be in this revelation. You might think this is all silly, but I am just telling you what was honestly going through my head all these years in regards to race.

Okay, so you are wondering now why on earth I wanted to leave this place. It sounds pretty nice. It is! But it isn't all nice. If you are one of my American readers, you've probably heard about the other side of the Baltimore crime, entirely too much. It's a broken city, broken by poverty, drugs, racial tension, shootings, injustice, abuse... it is a city to break your heart. It's The Wire. It's Freddie Gray dying in a police van. It's my pastor getting stopped by the police numerous times because any white person in those neighborhoods must be there to get drugs, or deal them. It's police helicopters every night, break-ins next door, sirens rushing by taking another shooting victim to the hospital, weeping families losing another beloved son or daughter to a driveby shooting. It's driving down a street filled with black boys doing wheelies on their bikes and laughing and shooting hoops and wondering how many of them are going to live to see twenty-five. It's a city to cry and pray over and beseech God to redeem.

It's also a city where my twins are buried in a large cemetery in a spot reserved for little ones who never saw the light of day. A city where every time the phone rang I jumped and worried that someone else I loved had died. A city where I worried for months that I had ovarian cancer until I had surgery and found out I didn't, but the pall of depression didn't lift. A city that crushed down on me as I spiraled deeper and deeper in to the fear and anxiety that finally sent me to the mental hospital.

Okay, I know I don't look very crushed here but there were plenty of joyous, light-filled times, like the best-ever city wedding of the Mathesons where there were bounce houses, at.a.wedding. Photo credit: Sean Scheidt

I've always struggled with the idea that running away will solve my problems. In the numerous valleys of grief that I walked through, I just wanted to run, run from that horrible pit in my stomach, to someplace warm (why do people always seem to die in the dead of winter when it's cold and dark?) and green and light. I also used to think that jumping into a love affair would solve my problems, but fortunately for my husband, I haven't employed that strategy since I got married. Do you see why I had to leave Baltimore? I didn't know that the snake of fear wouldn't uncoil just because I left. It had me wrapped tight in its grasp.

But I'm free now, and I can love Baltimore for all that it is. I think I could live there and rejoice and be free and cry over it but not sink into darkness over it. And I love the ones who live there and call it home and toil daily to make it a better place. Some of the best.humans.ever. You know who you are, I love you so much.

In case you are wondering, that totally awesome church I went to: The Garden Church. Check it out.

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