Last Sunday afternoon, my husband took my kiddos on an outing, and I was left alone in an empty house that had run out of edible food. Hmm, time to go to the grocery store.
So I strapped on my preggo belly-support-belt under my clothes (like a true athlete), and drove to the local grocery store. I realized that I NEVER go shopping on a weekend. My errands are largely run midweek – and during the summer months – with kids in tow. The scene I found was quite different than I had ever seen there.
Whole families – fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, babies, and the occasional grandparents – pushing a shopping cart. Groups of teenage boys swaggering around a shopping cart. Older couple carefully searching for and discussing each item to put into the cart. And they were all Hispanic. I knew their culture was very family-oriented, but I had never seen it played out like this. Children darted through carts. People took their time on considering this brand or that. We all moved at a snails pace. Without having my children with me, I was able to just lean hard on the handle of my cart, and observe. To wait for each shopping cart log-jam to clear. For each person to have their space. What I noticed was that the majority of people just went about their business. They waited when they had to wait, and walked when it was time to walk. Sunday afternoon grocery shopping in the Hispanic part of town was a surprisingly leisurely float down the aisles. Barely anyone acted huffy and irritated in the enormous crowds of people.
With the news brimming this week with racial tension and violence, I have been looking at my own role in all this. I’m a stay at home mom, a White woman living with my White family in a mixed Hispanic/White side of town. I don’t march, I don’t politicize, I don’t draw attention. But as I dug into it, I realized that I don’t pay attention much, either. I regard my neighbors with polite diffidence. We all keep to ourselves pretty much. Nobody knocks on our door. And we don’t knock on other doors either. This seemed like an acceptable stasis, a culture of privacy that has pervaded my neighborhood long before we arrived here.
Then I was praying, and God reminded me of this:
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
How do I love God?
To begin, by looking into his face, and seeing all the compassion and wisdom therein.
How do I love my neighbor as myself?
It starts by looking into their face, after I have looked into God’s face?
It’s a start.
So I began by asking myself, what if I tried something different? Anxiety immediately dog-piled onto my head about single-handedly organizing block parties, baking cookies for every house on my street, and arranging neighborhood playdates. Girls, I am not that ambitious, even on a good day. But I found it’s a matter of taking the opportunities – as they come up – to meet, or smile, or comment, or connect.
Because avoidance breeds mistrust, suspicion, and making up all sorts of terrible stories.
But connection fosters communication, knowledge, trust, and a sense of communal safety.
I’m not exalting the Hispanic community, and I’m not degrading myself. I’m just noticing. I’m looking into their faces, and seeing moms looking out for kids, dads looking out for moms, and grandparents overseeing the whole scene. The very act of looking into another person’s face when I bump into their cart, or need to pass by, while I mumble my “Excuse me,” is a giant move.
Looking. Into. Other. Peoples’. Faces.
This avoidance culture hasn’t done me much good. Avoiding my neighbors has promised safety, privacy, and personal space: all valuable commodities to me personally. But the sneaky side effects have been mistrust and a general suspicion. Of what? I don’t know really.
But I think on the flip side, a complete systemic overhaul of class and race lines is ludicrous. We are different. And that’s okay. Our differences make us uncomfortable because we are unfamiliar with what’s different. And that’s okay. The courage to look into each others’ different, uncomfortable faces from time to time, is the place for connection and familiarity to start. I am just as suspicious of the wealthy wives living high on the hill in giant mansions, as I am of the brothers living down the street in a one-bedroom place. My issues reach to all points on the map. Trust me.
I’m not saving the world. But I am doing what I can. Which at this moment, is the very very teeny act of looking into the faces of the people I find myself living around. Are they White? Are they Hispanic? Are they Black? Do they have kids pulling at them? Are they having a hard time? Are they happy? And what about me? How am I feeling? Stressed out? Compassionate? Neighborly? Lonely? Because we all matter in this life. And if I’m to love my neighbor as myself, then I am to first love God with all my heart and soul and mind. Which is, itself, a tall order. But a worthwhile one, for the sake of the trickle down effect in our neighborhoods. And so, let’s start there.