Tuesday, September 30, 2008

S. Dallas Poverty

I'm getting a real education with the new bus route I have this school year. I guess the area just west of Fair Park has the most abject poverty seen in Dallas. Signs of this are everywhere you look. About a quarter of the houses are boarded up, deserted. Nearly all the others have burglar bars. Many lean to the right or left...some to the right and left.

The toll of poverty on the people there is readily apparent. I see men who are old before their time, their bodies twisted and contorted as they walk the streets. Another cue is the problem posed by transportation...specifically, the lack of available reliable transportation. Cars tend to be beat-up, weathered, and dilapidated. As I reflect on the stress caused when our family has an automobile maintenance issue, I wonder the turmoil caused when one of the aforementioned clunkers gives out. Today, I saw a large lady, appearing to be 40-ish. She was pushing a bicycle along Pennsylvania Avenue. It appeared that she perhaps had been riding the bike but had become winded, and now was simply pushing it along. Obviously, this is not a scene you'll see in the suburbs. I immediately wondered about the circumstances: had she ridden it to work? to check on her mom? Was she on the way to the grocery store? Probably not the latter. There are no grocery stores in S. Dallas.

There is a heavy police presence in this area. It is difficult to travel from my school on the west side of Fair Park, down Pennsylvania, and west to Lamar St. without seeing at least one squad car. Poverty breeds desperation, desperation breeds crime. Now I know all the arguments about folks who've hit bottom...they made their bed, they made poor choices, they should have gotten an education, they're lazy, etc. All I know is that the older I get, the less import I give those arguments. It seems we Christians should be less about explaining and more about reacting.

I've been conducting a strange experiment every afternoon. As I drive down Pennsylvania, I've been noticing a man sitting in front of a house, same place, same time every day. His body is twisted and his head is always canted in a way that suggests mental illness. He is skin and bones and dirty clothing. And he's reading a Bible every time I see him. He always looks up as I pass because, after all, you can hear a school bus coming. About three weeks ago, after I began to pick up on him being there every day, I started waving to him as I passed. And until yesterday, his only response was the coldest of stares...a chilling stare, frankly. But then yesterday, he raised his right hand ever so slightly. And again today, the same reaction, an almost imperceptible wave. In the grand scheme of things, this is pretty small. I can't see the two of us ever getting past this most rudimentary of contacts. But somehow, someway, I was glad to make the connection. A highly blessed, never wanting, educated white man from the bedroom community of Rockwall allowed to penetrate into the sphere of a South Dallas black man. I wonder what he thinks of me?! God moves in mysterious ways!

1 comment:

Becky said...

That is chilling to read about; I have been there many times and know exactly what you are talking about. I've often wondered why those that are so blessed have more compassion for the poor in other countries, yet look upon those in our own city with disdain, because they are so consumed with survival from day to day that they don't have the strength or the ability to crawl out of that deep hole.
You will probably never know what your simple gesture of kindness means to that gentleman.