Last week we had some of the most beautiful weather that I have experienced in a great while. The air was cool and crisp, and the sky was a brilliant blue with the sun shining so brightly that it brought a smile to my face. I happened to be tutoring at a high school back in the old neighborhood where I grew up and I suddenly felt a sense of deja vu. The conditions reminded me of the days when I was young and my whole life lay before me. Suddenly I had an urge to drive to my former home just to see how it was doing on such a glorious day. Somehow I imagined that it might have been transformed from its rundown state by the sheer wonder of spring just as the formerly barren trees that were now filled with green had been with the bloom of spring in the air. My thoughts of returning to the center of my youth faded as quickly as the silly idea that my mama might be waiting for me there. Instead I headed for my present home in the opposite direction.
Perhaps my mother had been looking out for my welfare after all. I later learned that a Houston Police SWAT team had been engaged in a four hour standoff at Belmark and Crosswell just down the street from where I once lived. It seems that one of the residents had taken to shooting his gun anytime that he wished and on this particular day one of the bullets had found its way inside the home of a neighbor who decided it was time to report the inconsiderate resident to the police. The rest as they say is history.
After hearing of the latest difficulty in the area I was reminded of the need to be vigilant when I drive over there for my sessions with students. The loveliness of the trees and the sounds of the birds had lulled me into believing that all was well in a part of town now known more for its toughness than the pastoral feel that it once had. I should have been warned by the burglar bars on the windows and doors of the nearby houses, but somehow in my daydreamy state I had forgotten that things had changed so much.
I thought of a book that had been one of my very favorites when I was no more than five or six years old. It was about a delightful little house that stood in the middle of a country field and belonged to a big happy family. Initially life for the house was grand but as time passed its paint began to fade and peel. As it aged so did the area around it. More and more buildings popped up here and there until one day the little house was surrounded by skyscrapers and tenements. It was only a shell of itself, an abandoned heap of broken glass and rotting wood that had once been so loved. Because the book was a story for children it naturally had a happy ending as someone purchased the tiny place, renovated it, and moved it to a hill filled with wildflowers and lovely shade trees. The little house was smiling once again.
Sadly the real world if far less like that story. I often envision a time when my old neighborhood will be rediscovered by people willing to return it to its one time glory. So many of the folks who now live there appear to be trying hard to make it a good place for their families, but as long as there are those who seem not to care about the rights and the safety of their neighbors it remains a dangerous place to be. I suspect that when the sun sets and the streets get dark there is much fear inside the walls of the houses surrounded by high fences that sometimes sport concertina wire as an added way to keep out marauders. Given that most of us at one time slept in the same structures with our windows wide open at night, it is difficult to imagine having to live with the worries that must surely plague the good people who want to provide a nice family atmosphere for their children.
The signs are all there that caring people inhabit the neighborhood. There are still lovely roses growing in many of the yards and fresh coats of colorful paint brighten the exteriors. Sadly here and there are the marks of neglect, eyesores that clash with the efforts of the vast majority of residents and everywhere there are the barriers erected in an attempt to keep intruders at bay.
Schools like the one where I tutor are doing their best to bring a light of hope to the people who live nearby, but their hard work is too often offset by stories like the SWAT standoff just down the street. On the same day as that horrendous event there was also a news item about a teacher at the local middle school who had impregnated a thirteen year old girl. Little wonder that so many of the people who live where I once found so much innocent adventure and security feel as though they are forgotten.
I’d like to believe that the work being done inside places like the school where I help young people is the key to changing the fate of those who live in less than ideal circumstances. Education will surely make a difference. The men and women who toil each day at Cristo Rey are providing hope one student, one family at a time. Many of the youngsters that they teach will be the first to graduate from high school and then continue on to college. The knowledge that the students acquire will most surely bring them the power to take control of their destinies.
The criminal element is everywhere, all over the world. Seeing evil is an inevitable part of life, but being continually victimized by it is not. I still harbor dreams that we humans have the capability of reviving even dilapidated neighborhoods into vital and inviting centers for living well. The spirit of hope is still evident in my old stomping grounds. Most of the people there really care and want to eliminate the hopelessness that sometimes overtakes them when they see the gangs and the drug deals just outside their doors.
After the SWAT team had subdued the trouble maker who lived on the street where I once did a newscaster interviewed an old man who voiced my own thoughts. He proclaimed that his was a nice neighborhood with good people who just wanted to feel safe. He hoped that the man who had been stealing their security would go away for a very long time so that they might live in peace. Even though I no longer live on Belmark Street like that man, I felt a kinship with him and I too would like to think that things will get a bit better for the folks who might have been my neighbors had I stayed. Today is a beautiful day and tomorrow should be quite fine as well. I pray that the sunshine will bring a ray of hope to Belmark Street and all of the places where darkness sometimes descends and that there will be better days just like there were for the little house in the story that I read so long ago.