"And I said to the one who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than the known way.'" (Minnie Haskins)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Safer than the Known Way: September Letter

One of the favorite parts of my job is walking the streets. Around here I get one or two raised eyebrows when I say that, as well as an occasional crack about ‘my other job.’
Generally everyone knows what I mean, though in the neighborhood there occasionally arises some slight confusion, such as this morning when the man in the black sedan with Pennsylvania tags asked me – with the sun beaming and birds chirping – if I needed a ride. When I said, ‘No, I live here,’ he in turn said, ‘I can still give you a ride if you know what I mean.’
Yes, I knew what he meant. And no, I am not looking for a way to earn a few extra dollars to support my drug habit. Are my eyes yellow and blood shot? No. Drug free thank you very much.
Despite occasional run-in’s like that, I do enjoy walking the streets.
I love walking the hilly streets lined with historic bungalows. I love soaking in the sun and listening to the hum of birds singing. I love not sitting behind a desk on a beautiful day.
But walking the streets is not my way of escaping from work. Walking the streets enables me to know my neighborhood. I walk with a folded 8 by 10 map of South Atlanta, pen and small notebook. I jot down changes to the infrastructure, mark code issues, and note the presence of new neighbors. By walking the streets I can tell you which areas have neighbors looking after neighbors and which are so marred by vacancies that the few remaining residents are vulnerable to break-ins and other criminal activity. And I can tell you where the drug dealers have set up shop.
Probably what I love most about walking the streets are all the random, unplanned opportunities it provides to interact with my neighbors – from the older man sitting on the front porch eating Ritz Crackers to Ms. Mary who keeps a bird like eye on her street. I love old Eddie Simons calling me up to his porch to tell me he is keeping watch over me. And lately I have loved all the concerned inquiries about the rumors they hear of me moving now that I am engaged; and I love the sighs of relief when they learn my new home is just a short 3 miles outside of the community. I love all these little interruptions – the moments of listening, laughing, encouraging and praying.
And by walking the neighborhood I am known. If people in South Atlanta do not recognize my name, I have been told that all one has to do is say ‘she’s the short white girl with the camera’ and folks will nod that they do indeed know me.
It is good to be known.

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