I’ve returned to Philadelphia; this morning I walked two blocks from the BuildaBridge house to a local deli–two blocks in a relatively safe neighbourhood of the city. There are two churches, a yoga studio, a mansion turned museum, the studio of a juggling artist, and a bus stop between here and there.
In the two years or so that I lived here, I was harassed multiple times in my own yard by people wanting money or trouble. I was cursed at by a man who wanted to park his car (blocking the exit) of our private lot. I’ve seen eight or ten police cars at once outside. There have been multiple murders in within blocks of this house in the time I was here. One of my house-mates was robbed at knifepoint nearby.

As I walked to the market, I found myself looking closely at passers-by. I look at the way people carry themselves, what kind of clothing they wear, the tension around their eyes and mouth as they approach me. And, for every person, these words were going through my head.

  • not a threat
  • potentially a threat
  • be alert

One has to think this way; yet, I don’t want to think this way. I know the people on the street are sizing me up as well, skinny white man; no threat. But I would imagine they would rather not have to think this way either.

The two blocks from here to the deli is our whole world. There are faith, history, diversions, food, shelter, and so on; The same things everyone asks for in a stable society. Yet people won’t look each other in the eye. There is too much risk of connexion or hostility. Either I can’t get over the assumption that the black guy in baggy pants and basketball jersey might try to mug me–or he can’t get over the assumption that this is what I’m assuming. Either way, there is an aversion to contact.

As I exited the deli, two nuns entered. Both looked in their seventies; what are their assumptions of the same people I passed on the street? Are they as sharp in their assessments as I; or have they, through years of practice, somehow found a more balanced awareness? Perhaps we are all lacking.