I love living in the heart of Harrisburg, just over a mile from Downtown, the Susquehanna River, and the Pennsylvania State Capitol. One of my favorite things about city life is being in the heart of everything, taking in the beauty of the city without using my car for days at a time. I love the rich history of the Keystone State, and the East Coast as a whole, which is much different than my other home, located at the crossroads where the South meets the Midwest.
But not everyone sees the city through the same lens that I do. I’ve talked to a handful of people who have told me Harrisburg is in really bad shape, most notably due to a budget deficit of more than $1 billion, which is kind of a lot for a city of just under 50,000. And then there’s my neighborhood, Allison Hill, one of the poorest and most violent neighborhoods in the city, where condemned houses crumble, trash piles up in the streets, drug deals are commonplace, and it’s odd when you don’t hear arguments at 2:00 in the morning. In the past month of being here, I’ve witnessed knife fights, fist fights, gun fights, drug deals, and been asked “What the f*** are you doing here?” by one of my neighbors.
In spite of all of this, I absolutely love my city and neighborhood, and not just some future version of the community. While I’ve spent quite a bit of time walking the streets and dreaming of redemption making its way through the streets, my heart is filled with a growing fondness for the neighborhood in its current state—while it’s still a mess. And I think this is what Jesus calls us to, not to retreat into our quiet suburban homes and pretend the worst parts of our cities don’t exist, but to grow in our love for the entire city—the good, the bad, or the ugly.
Of course, I’m not saying everyone needs to move to the worst part of their cities, as I have. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it for most. But I think we should at least care when there are parts of our cities that lie in ruins. I think it should bother us that there are children that fall asleep each night in fatherless homes, that there are single moms forced to spend each new day trying to figure out how they’re going to put food on the table three times before the sun sets. Not all of us receive the call to go, but we can all care, we can all pray, we can all hope and dream and grieve when tragedy strikes our city. Because we’re one city—and a division in social standing should never cause us to forget that.
As I was jogging the other day across the State Street Bridge, which connects Downtown to The Hill, a thought made its way into my mind. At the time, I was pondering how quickly the scenery changes, how quickly the beauty of the river front gives way to streets of crumbling houses littered with trash.
Life is fragile and terrifying and beautiful at the same time.
Little did I know how soon I would experience this full range of emotions.
Part Two of this entry, “A Sudden End,” is available here.