For awhile there loud noises would startle me. I could be out in the middle of a field in the country, or on the deck of a friends house in the suburbs, and any loud bang would cause me to jump. That was shortly after moving into this neighborhood, after hearing gunshots regularly many nights. It struck me, the conditioning that quickly overtook me, feeling the fear rise up in me at the bang of a door or the pop of a dropped object. I had never had to grow up on edge like that.
I don’t know when it changed, but it did. The popping in the night became all too familiar. Just another round of shots. Sound carries in the concrete city, and usually it’s not that close. You can tell with the close ones. But even those now–I don’t jump. Maybe something has changed in that I am no longer afraid of the stray bullet. Or more likely I’ve been desensitized to it. Just another noise. Another few shots. Could be someone firing in the air. Could be worse, could be much worse. If these are the bells calling me to prayer, too often I’m hitting the snooze button–one that doesn’t work but to shut off the alarm.
Tonight they were close. It was only 8:30. I didn’t jump. I froze and listened to the four or five shots. I was in the kitchen and looked out the window. A man was walking down the street, the shots less than a block away. If he broke stride I didn’t see it. He just kept right on walking. I didn’t see anything else out the window so I kept doing what I was doing. A minute later there were another ten shots, just as close, same gun. This time I awoke.
The sirens came. I looked out the window and saw neighbors running into their houses. I saw a police car pull into the car wash on 42nd and Prospect. I went out on the roof and I could smell the gunpowder in the air. An ambulance came but it was moving slow. More police came but they weren’t searching for anything or anyone. They taped off the area. These are not good signs.
The news says a man was found dead, shot behind the car wash. No details are known yet, but that car wash is a shady place, especially after dark. So the guy wasn’t up to anything good–though that’s speculation. Would that make it better anyway? Did this man deserve to die, whatever he was mixed up in?
I heard a man die tonight. The lights went out. The consciousness gone. No more experiences. No more living. It’s different when you really think about it and don’t just pass it off with a single word and a categorization. When we keep right on walking. When we hit the snooze another time on drawing up compassion because well there is just too much shit in this world, and we can’t take it all in and expect to actually get anything accomplished can we? As long as it’s not close to me and doesn’t affect the people I know then I don’t generally have to honestly care about it. I can compartmentalize it, especially if it happens in those places it’s supposed to happen–war zones, drug zones, the ghetto.
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty. I’m writing this mostly for myself, because that is what I’ve done my whole life. I’ve set myself aside from it. I’ve disconnected myself from the problems and realities of life of those I am not connected to. But who is my brother? Who is the whole world that God loves? Who is the Samaritan if not the one that I am not expected to care about?
Change my cold and weary heart Lord. You who see all the pain of the world, do not let us shut our eyes and our hearts. Wake our souls to the desperate need for life among our neighbors. And let us not forget the answer to that question, “who is my neighbor?”
Even now the sirens continue to cry out into the night.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.