One of my favorite parts of living in this neighborhood where I work, go to church, and mentor is bumping into the youth and/or their families on random occasions. Several times my fiance and I will see one of the guys in the program walking to get somewhere. We’ll pause and offer him a ride. Sometimes it’s declined, often though he’ll hop in and as we drive we’ll chat about the day, where he’s headed, etc. I’ve run into one of the girls I mentor studying at the library, seen patients from the health clinic where I work along with their parent at the grocery store. All of these encounters are fun and a reminder of us being a part of the same community, all living life close together.
One evening I was walking after the daylight had started to fade and noticed a youth standing at his post on the corner. I watched from a block away or so as I walked towards him feeling my defense heighten. A truck drove slowly by and I watched him mean-mug the driver then throw gang signs as another car went past. As I got closer to him I stayed alert, knowing he wouldn’t bother me but ready to duck or move if something broke out on the corner. Suddenly the young man’s demeanor changed, he went from standing rigid and glaring to waving and bouncing around a bit with a big, goofy grin on his face. “Hey!” he said looking straight at me. I then realized I knew this person I had been carefully watching. As he stood there smiling and waving furiously, the little boy in him shone through and I was reminded how young he actually was. “Hey Ricardo!” I said waving right back. “How’s it going?” We stood there and chatted a bit, him still with that goofy grin on his face excited to tell me about school and how he had won his softball game earlier that evening. After a bit I said goodbye and moved along, glancing back I saw he had resumed his spot on the corner and had also resumed his tough demeanor. That moment stuck with me though. Perhaps it was the contrast of seeing Ricardo in two very different roles, perhaps it was the reminder he and I are a part of the same community, the same block even, and that we’re neighbors. I am thankful for Ricardo, thankful for the privilege to know him and his family, and thankful we both call this area home.