Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Welfare of my City

Urban Sunrise. Not exactly the Rockies...

I grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. My parents still live in the same type of home, quiet neighborhood, driving distance to grocery store and movie theatre and mall. We moved exactly twice during my time living in my parents house and I have happy memories of playing with neighborhood kids, taking the bus to my private school, mowing the grass on the weekends, going for dinner at places like Bob Evans and Applebees. It was nice. Suburban living has its own charms.

When I moved away for college, I began living urban and have never looked back. Four years ago we settled in a neighborhood in Pittsburgh's East End, and we have put down roots literally and figuratively (our backyard raised bed gardens are a work in progress, but I am optimistic). Although I drive more then I would like, I am within walking distance of just about anything I need to sustain life: food, work, bookstore, hospital, Target. My neighborhood coffee shop is Zeke's, and the owner is a single Dad named Chris who named the place after his grandfather. I am still trying to figure out the baking schedule so I can write in my Moleskin day planner the day they have the cream scones. I would rearrange my life for those scones. A new oyster bar just opened 4 blocks away from us and mixed me a fairly decent sazerac when Grant and I tried out the place for our anniversary last week.

I throw my glass milk jug in the front seat when I need to run up to Bryant Street market, and I hate paying the $2 jug fee when I forget to bring mine in to trade. The dairy farm that sells me my hormone free, roughly homogenized whole milk also provides me with free range eggs that sometimes still have bits of chicken stuff on the shells. I try not to think about what that stuff is...I live in the city because I prefer to be a bit removed from whatever lines the inside of a chicken's egg chute. In the months when Pittsburgh is not a frozen tundra, I can walk to several neighborhood parks and the city pool, ride my bike to work, and map my run to the reservoir at Highland Park for an exactly 4.1 mile loop.

I know my neighbors. When we first moved into East Liberty, the house on the right was rented by a small time drug dealer and his girlfriend, their 3 girls, and several rotating house guests. They were the nicest people you could ever want to live beside, and my kids enjoyed greeting their clients as they came through the backyard on their way to a bag of weed. Across the street live a college professor and her computer engineer husband, down the street is the owner of one of our favorite restaurants for Sunday brunch, and our neighbors on the left encourage us to borrow their gas powered lawn mower every time Ernie sees me outside push mowing our tiny front yard. It really bugs him that I mow the grass at our place, and usually after I have waved at him while mowing, his 15 year old son Tyrese casually wanders over and offers to mow the grass for me. I always decline and he always makes sure I know that his Dad made him come over.

Living in the city isn't always charming and sometimes the excitement is not the sort that makes you want to invite your parents to move next door. The year we moved in there were 3 murders of young kids in quick succession, revenge killings, that rocked the neighborhood pretty hard and led a group of local pastors and city advocates to have Friday evening prayer gatherings for a few months after. Some evenings we sit on the couch in the living room with our heads cocked trying to figure out if that sound we heard was gunshots or fireworks. We have picked endless pieces of litter out of our front yard, my purse was stolen off of the front seat of our car while I carried groceries up the steps of the house, and my parking tickets for forgetting to move my car on street sweeping day are paying for some renovations on a wing of the courthouse.

The verse from Jeremiah talks about seeking the welfare of the city. The prophet was speaking to the Israelites who were in exile from their homeland. Jeremiah was encouraging them to build homes, marry locals, work hard, and be successful. Because as the city prospered, they would prosper. It would do them no good to cloister themselves off and wait to be returned to Israel and the promised land. They were living NOW in the city God had placed them in, and their charge was to seek the welfare of that city.

Grant and I take this call as our own, and want to seek the welfare of Pittsburgh, this city God has placed us in. We are sending our daughter to Pittsburgh Public Schools, we are going to an urban Anglican church, we buy our food from the local farmers co-op, have our neighbors around for G&Ts on the back porch, and I drive a particular way home to get gas from the place where a homeless guy named Bill does a bang up job washing my windows while we chat about the weather.

We live here. We want this city and the inhabitants of it to thrive because our welfare is tied to the welfare of the city. Statistically, 80% of my daughters classmates will be below proficiency reading level by the 3rd grade. So I spend a few hours every Friday morning in her classroom hanging out with these kids, because Pursy's welfare is tied to theirs. I have a network of working Mamas in my neighborhood that I can call when my babysitter has an emergency and I need help with my kids so I can get to the hospital for my shift. Their kids are in our homes, and ours are in theirs. We have to balance work and family so we need each other. Because as their welfare goes, so does ours.

Knox and Pursy take gymnastics classes and swimming lessons at the local Boys and Girls Club. Their coaches are dedicated and wonderful, and I regularly have a random kid ask me if he can use my phone to watch YouTube videos while I sit in the cafeteria waiting for the end of class. Not sure if I am contributing to productive welfare for that kid, but I have seen lots of Silento music videos I would never otherwise have seen. We have a group of Christians in the East End who get together on regular Tuesday evenings for happy hour because not many of us have family in the area and community is essential for health and life. Our welfare is tied to the heartbeat of this beautiful City of Bridges. So I want to write about life here, and how we keep deciding it's worth it to give up a bigger backyard and a garage and a premier school system and a quiet street and a view of the night sky for a life in the city where our vectors intersect in the most beautiful chaos we could ever want for our selves and our kids.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Love this one Christy, the roots take hold and grow. We are working on that part in our new city now. -W