Loving the City

Loving the City August 25, 2010

Yesterday I looked at an apartment I adored in Sausalito, a beautiful, quaint little fishing town across the Bay from San Francisco. It’s a drive across Golden Gate bridge. It’s a ferry ride.

I’ve mentioned a few times here that we’ve been in a bit of battle to stay in our apartment in San Francisco. The battle has come to an end and we are officially moving out this October. So, now I’m in full apartment search mode, looking for a place where we can comfortably grow our family and struggling with what that means. See, I’d like a bigger place, where we could have another baby, where two beds could fit in the second bedroom, where I wouldn’t have to worry about how to carry two accidentally asleep children to the house when the car is parked blocks away. Those are city problems and I’m sure we could solve them by moving to another, less intense neighborhood. It’s just that the neighborhoods we can afford are not necessarily exciting to us.

One of the things I love about the friends I’ve made here in San Francisco is that they all seem to have a beautiful commitment to seeing this city flourish, a commitment to giving their children a picture of the world that is diverse and filled with all sorts of people and beliefs. They are committed to loving the broken of this city, not hiding from its brokenness.

I did not grow up in the suburbs. My city was not big enough to have suburbs. But I did grow up on the comfortable side of my hometown, rarely entering the broken places, the frightening places. When I was in high school, I became friends with a girl whose family moved regularly in and out of pieces of my hometown that I had never known existed. Though my parents worried, I became her ride to and from school and church events. I waited for her outside of her flea ridden, non air conditioned (in the 100 degree Texas summer) home on the North side. I sat outside on her front steps while a little girl with lice in her hair talked to me about why her daddy had locked her out of her apartment that afternoon. I remember hearing a voice in my head say: Remember this.

I heard that voice several times after, every time I encountered poverty. While I played soccer with children in a village along the Amazon River. While starving, strung out street children ripped bread from my hands on the street in Nairobi. And now I hear it, walking with my son in my neighborhood, past the church where the homeless wait for their 5:30 pm sandwich distributed by the priests.

Sometimes I despise myself for what I’m not doing for the poor. Yes, I can give to charities. Yes, I can teach August by example to look the homeless man at the park in the eye and say hello. But I also have to protect myself and my son. I can’t be stupid. And, I’m not one of the saints I so admire who has given her life to rescuing the addicted on the streets or the children in homes without a meal. My brother began and runs a ministry in my hometown that seeks to love and meet the basic needs of the children on the same side of town where I sat beside the little girl with lice in her hair. I’m incredibly grateful that Brooks has given his life to do something most of us cannot do.

Which brings me back to Sausalito. It’s a perfect apartment. Chris and I would sit outside in the evenings and stare out over a stunning view of the bay. August would have carpet to sit on his room and space for his toys. I’d do laundry whenever I want! We’d also be living in the suburbs. We wouldn’t be walking past the 60 lovely elederly women from Chinatown doing Thai Chi together every morning at the park. We’d miss the vast diversity of kids at the park whom August digs with in the sand. We’d miss the sounds of city life.

Are we all called to the city?  I have loved my experience of the city but I’ve never felt comfortable in it. It’s difficult. I love walking everywhere but I also love living among trees and quaintness. I’m a small town girl and I want to be able to shoo my kids out the door and into the yard while I cook dinner. What does that say about me?  At some point we decide whether to follow our needs and our finances to the place we’re comfortable.

Are the families who remain simply the strong who are fully committed to loving their neighbors and raising their kids to know and respect every kind of person? Or do they also really love living city lives? I imagine they love the city and long to be part of its healing.

So what does it mean if I’m not sure I love living in it? What does it mean if I want to be part of its healing but don’t see myself in it long term? Am I weak? Is it a failure to make a decision like where you live based mostly on what makes you comfortable? Is there even an answer to that question?

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