We have these really really big windows here. The light that shines in leaves nothing uncovered. Our plants are massive, our couches warmed. When the sun is shining, I like to stand in the window, turn my face to the sun and just feel. The view down though…that’s another feeling altogether. And more often than I stand to look up at the sun, I stand to look down at the street. Over the years of living here, I have witnessed so much violence. Knives, Hammers, Boots, Cars….all these things that should be useful tools, I have seen used as weapons. I have seen men bloodied just on the other side of the fence where my children play. I have screamed and shouted at violent acts and sometimes that is enough to scatter the fray.
Sometimes I find out that I’m yelling at the wrong person….
One night while I was looking out these windows, I saw a man run after another man on a bike. He caught him and was trying to shake him off and take the bike. I ran to the door and yelled. “Hey! Stop it.” The man who was trying to take the bike yelled back “This is my bike! He stole it from me!!” so I yelled back, “Well, how am I supposed to know?!”
Other times, I’ll see a couple fighting and he gets rough with her and I run down and open the door to yell, but they’re now walking away hand in hand.
And yet, the longer I live here, the softer my heart has become for the things I see outside the windows. My heart weeps (and often my eyes) and somehow, strangely, I’ll say, “I don’t want to be anywhere else.” Somehow, strangely, it does not make me fearful. It provokes a response of love and compassion and compels me to reach out and touch the pain.
Over the years of observing the police and emergency response teams in this neighbourhood, it is rare that I have witnessed tenderness. I have witnessed many moments of kindness. I have seen care demonstrated and heard good will in their voices. But tenderness is lacking. And tenderness is healing. I think this is what the world needs: more tenderness. But tenderness is vulnerable. It means we have to come in close and often it feels too close. It means that we have to bend down low and look into each others’ eyes. It means holding hands.
My desire to run and reach out to situations like I described starts to be clouded by uncertainty as I get closer. That initial motivation sometimes fades into fear as I get near. Will I be safe? And sometimes getting close enough to touch isn’t an option! But when it is, our response matters. If reaching out is the difference, then God give us courage.
There is a phrase painted on the outside of our entrance to the 2nd floor. Dorothy Day says, “Love casts out all fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love.” I believe there is a strong literal meaning here. So God, may we look into the eyes of those we meet and hold the hands of those who have them open.
Amanda Leighton lives at Flatlanders Inn with her husband and two young children, in a family suite filled with theology books and Lego. She is a reader, a gardener, a worship leader, and an activist. She has been a leader at Flatlanders Inn since the early days.