"I promise! I'm not a hoodlum!" The young man yelled at me as he began to cross the street. "I'm trying to live real good! You know?!" He was smiling as he shouted at me. I was pretty far away, walking by myself from the playground to the facility where our homeschool co-op meets. One of the co-op kids left a jacket, and I had to retrieve it. The facility has after school programs, and so I assumed the teenager thought I worked there. I didn't know what to do, so I laughed, thinking he must just be joking around. Why should he care what I thought?
"No, really. I promise," he insisted, as if I needed to know. I kept up my gradual walk to the building without slowing down. He had crossed the street and was crossing in front of me, still about 40 feet away. I asked God to help me to know what to say since he seemed to want some reassurance from me, but all I could blurt out was, "Good!" I smiled at him.
He was walking away from the building now, towards the trailer park just to the side of it. He was older than 16, tall with a scruffy beard. He had the smallest trace of a Mexican accent. I thought he was done telling me how good he was trying to be, but he stopped, turned to me and yelled again, just as I was about to open the facility's door. With his arms wide open, his backpack swinging behind one shoulder, he grinned as he hollered, "I promise. Really. I'm trying!"
I stopped and looked him in the eye. I wanted to yell, "Go to Mass!" But I refrained. Our Catholic co-op was having a few issues over the dynamics of our group with the secular facility. I didn't want to add proselytizing to a list of complaints. He started to walk away from me with hurried steps. "God bless you!" I yelled after him.
He swung around with a grin. "Thank you! I needed that! I definitely need that!" And then he walked through the gate that led to the trailer home neighborhood. Trailer park ghetto, I call it.
In Boise, there is a swath of trailer homes that stretches for miles. Every time I drive through the area, my heart breaks. On co-op days, I often see kids and teenagers walking home from school. With worn out shoes and grubby backpacks, the young ones laugh with their friends. The teenagers are usually solemn. They walk shoulder to shoulder, talking quietly as they make their way to the ghetto, where roofs are patched with tarps and windows are repaired with duct tape.
Among the trailer homes are run down houses with weeds that grow higher than the windows and porches that are broken in spots. There isn't a single building that doesn't need a paint job. I look for signs of community whenever I need to drive down a certain road, but all I see is a mental health facility that looks like a bunker and a small, grungy evangelical-style church. There are programs through the government and through charities, but there is nothing visible, nothing that says there is hope here.
When I lived in New Mexico in grade school, I had a friend who lived in a trailer home with her two siblings. It was always clean. There was a playground in the middle of the trailer home park. In all the times we walked there from her home, there was only one time that a creepy guy in a pick up truck tried to stop us. We successfully ran away from him. Since there were creepy guys in pick up trucks in the white collar neighborhoods too, it didn't seem to be an indicator that the trailer park was any worse. The little yards were well-kept, and none of the homes looked dilapidated. People knew each other, and neighbors standing around chatting was a common occurrence. This is not what I see in the ghetto.
I want to buy one of the run down houses and turn it into a place for tutoring and Bible studies. I want to buy the empty lot that is overgrown with weeds and make it a community garden. I want to buy another ruin of a house and make it a place for music and art lessons. I have no degrees in psychology or social work. But I used to be a nanny for a director of a foundation who would implement programs such as these with churches, so I know it's not impossible.
I tell this to my husband. I tell him about the teenage boy who was so grateful just for a "God bless you." I tell him about the Mexican mothers at the park and how I wish I had studied more Spanish so I could talk to them while my toddler plays with their toddlers. I tell him about the ghetto, about what I wish I could do, instead of "just praying." I'm tired of praying that Jesus would help them. I want to help. I want to ply the neighborhood with invitations to Mass at our church. I want to get a committee together and do things in the ghetto itself, not just offer things off-site. "Emily," he sighs. "You don't even have time to do the laundry." He's right.
So I keep praying over every group of kids I see walking to the trailer park homes after school. I pray over the mothers and fathers who are trying so hard to make the best of it in a world that is unfair and unjust. I ask God to soften hearts and end violence, not because I think I'm better than any of them, but because I know I'm not. If I were to live below the poverty line, what kind of character would I have? Knowing too well how stress can shape a person's thoughts and actions, how it can blind one to good judgment, how can I judge anyone?
"Jesus, please feed them." I pray. I want Jesus to feed them physically and spiritually. My husband tells me to pray for a better economy in Boise, something that would help everyone to be better employed. So I pray for that. I also pray for better education. I pray for God's peace and love to permeate every home. But I also want to forget about the ghetto because I'm a mom with five kids, with a household to run and a writing job to do, who can't even keep up with the laundry. I am inadequate and inundated.
I look forward to spring in hopes that maybe the ghetto won't look so bad in sunlight, when the weeds turn from brown to green with wildflowers. I sometimes think that maybe my observations over this school year have been all wrong. Perhaps I'm just seeing through an overly sensitive lens that is prone to making more of what is really there. But then I see a group of kids, talking as they cross the street, who should be wearing heavier coats. I see a teenage girl walking by herself, her back bent under a pile of books, her face stern as she walks through the trailer park gate. I notice that the end of a roof tarp has come loose on one of the homes and is fluttering in the cold, rainy wind.
"Oh, my God, please feed them," I pray, again.
©2016 Emily Woodham