Give all the happiness you can to those who give you a great deal of unhappiness, and give it willingly.
Fr. Jean Pierre-Medaille
Saturday night was an unusually cool August evening. We sat in our backyard, hummingbirds flitting from feeders to moon-flowers. The hens gossiping in the corral and the dogs lazily stretched at our feet as we were lost in our books. I was just about to rise and start dinner when our little oasis of tranquility was disturbed with rapid rounds of gunfire – several in succession, very close to the house.
We couldn’t really tell where they were coming from or more importantly where they were directed. So into the house, doors locked, lights out, windows closed tight. It’s not the first time an evening was abruptly interrupted. And I had this overwhelming sense of frustration and disappointment. “NIMBY! Not in my back yard!” In that moment all I wanted was for them to be someplace else or better us. We could move. We have resources, we are mobile.
In a suburb near St. Louis, residents are protesting the building of a low-income senior housing project. I’m not in the middle of it and I don’t want to disparage people’s concerns. Some folks who are familiar with the planners, say they have one of the best reputations in the country for building and managing these projects. Unfortunately some feel they were left out of the conversation in the zoning and planning. Others are worried since it is being built for “low-income” that could be a risk for the community. But what’s missing is a chance to problem solve together. Few are willing to dialogue, but many are willing to shout. The county had approved the permits and the walls of the first floor are already up. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to stop the project. And can you imagine, what it would be like if you were among the first to move in – to know your neighbors didn’t want you there? Would you feel safe?
Another NIMBY issue happened recently for an organization we support, The Covering House. Their mission is to provide care and support for young women who have been trafficked. They were hoping to open a residential program but were met with less than generous responses. And in the end they felt these young women should be allowed to heal and transform in a healthy and supportive community, not one locked in bias and fear – a difficult decision that delayed their start but allowed them to open out-client services. Check them out, they are doing great things. And I have a feeling there will be a home soon.
As I write this, I am reminded of a story someone shared with me about getting rid of a drug house that was in her neighborhood. She and her friends gardened. She talked about how every day they would walk to a nearby vacant lot, look the men in the eyes, greet them and then very publicly gardened while the men tried to deal on the corner. Cars stopping noticed the women very publicly watching. Eventually the men left and the area was cleaned up. Now those are some brave gardeners. But one has to wonder, where did they go?
And nearby, not far from where I work persons are engaged in prostitution. The primary community desire is to have them arrested and removed from the streets. And as experience has shown, that’s a temporary solution that usually ends up with the issue moving to yet another neighborhood. It just removes it from our backyard to possibly yours. I don’t blame them. We don’t want our children to see that every day. And worse yet, we sit imagining horrible scenarios if they are allowed to continue and work. In truth those fears have some grounding in reality. But they ignore the person – our neighbor. Maybe this is her backyard too.
It’s like the piles of unfinished work on my desk. I can keep moving the piles, but the work and the underlying need to complete that work doesn’t get done. But my desk sure looks pretty, neat – a real sense of accomplishment. But underneath, you’ll see the stacks of donation requests, newsletters to read, petitions to research and calls to action to answer. And if I’m not careful one misplaced foot and the whole mess tumbles around me, harder to address than before.
There is no easy answer; no quick fix. Every person deserves to live in a safe community, free from fear, enjoying the serenity of their own back yard. But if I’m not willing to do the work in my own back yard, then who will? If I have the resources to move away from or fight what scares me, perhaps I have the resources to help heal that which scares me most. I hope we can continue to work for others happiness in this unfinished world, sharing our own happiness, willingly.
Just passing through a few backyards…
But still on the path,