Thursday, October 13, 2011

Street Proofing or, Forget What Jesus Would Do and Just Keep Your Head Down

Jessie has a wild schedule this “first-year-of-no-school” year. While it includes a good mixture of both down and active time to keep her contributing, learning, creating, and growing, what makes the schedule so wild is that it’s not the same routine every day, as it had been for school and hence most of her and our lives so far. And it involves a lot of bussing to different places all across the city. Places that I might not normally go. Places that have no sidewalks and trucks that roll through stop signs (the Food Bank); places that require at least three transfers through points that I can’t access with a car (and hence can’t be a rescue backup); and places with more druggies, homeless alcoholics, skanks, and barely leashed Rotweilers per square inch than anywhere else in the region (downtown Rideau Street!).

Of course, it’s to this last location that Jessie has to travel 2 times a week. At night. To the dance school billed as being “located in sun-filled, heritage studios.” What they don’t mention are the hordes of tattooed and pierced street kids blocking the narrow entrance to the three flights of rickety stairs that bring you up to the creaky and perhaps sun-filled, if one were ever there in the daytime, studios.

While Jessie did a dance intensive at this studio during the summer and managed to get there on her own with no hassles (maybe it was all the tourists balancing out some delicate drug-to-decency ratio?), September’s journeys played out somewhat differently.

Dan was the travel accompanist and on the first night managed to herd her past a drug deal going bad on the way in. On the way out it was a skank fight. Night journey two was a longer story involving a dog, a tattoo, and a pipe, with the added Fellini-esque bonus of some spandexed and feathered street opera singer. We agreed that while Jessie could technically get to and from the classes on her own (she was comfortable with the bus route and knew where to go), it would be just too dangerous.

This, and the dubiousness of certain Christian teachings as practiced by transitioning youth with disabilities, was confirmed on night journey three. This is when Jessie and Dan were approached in the bus shelter by a staggering, red-eyed, malodorous gentleman holding out a grimy hand requesting spare change.

Jessie looked him in the eye and said, “Sorry. I don’t have any money right now. But I really admire you and you should keep up the good work. Because what you are doing is making a difference.”

Dan, taken aback by her response (the gentleman in question was too stoned or drunk to hear anything she said after “sorry”), asked her what she meant. What kind of work did she think he was doing and why on earth did she admire him? She explained that he was probably looking for money to clean up landmines or to contribute to the Foodbank, as the only reason to ask for money is for a good cause, right? And (this is the part where my faith gets me into a bit of trouble, and Dan looks at me accusingly), she said “Mom says to greet every person as if they were Jesus.”

Dan explained that the man was probably looking for money for drugs or alcohol (Jessie’s eyebrows raise in horror) and that she was NOT to greet every person as if they were Jesus—at least not on Rideau Street and certainly not when she was alone—and that he would discuss this with me when they got home.

Which he did.

Which is why we are re-street proofing Jessie and I am re-thinking exactly WHAT Jesus would do. Or what he would do if he were a middle aged mom trying to balance risk with independence in a twenty-something young woman with a disability and a social conscience.


Dave Hingsburger said...

Woah, that was a close call. I'd love to hear a follow up story about what you taught her differently and how it worked. These stories are so important to tell, we learn what to do and what not to do from them. I like the idea of seeing the holy in everyone but to not be insensitive to the dangerous in everyone too! If you write a follow up, let me know so I can come see.

Nan said...

Will let you know Dave! As there has been (and will continue to be) follow up! The beauty is we get to test it alot as she is out so often ... and I do a lot of lurking and spying!

Adelaide Dupont said...


Thought you and Jess might enjoy this video I pass on from Phil Groom:

Jesus from the Future

which talks about the very precept you were practising, Jessie.

Do you have any friends or can you go in a group for this dance?

(And here I was thinking the dangerous thing about postmodern Christianity would be the hugs and high-fives!)

I have a feeling that Muhammad and Buddha might have been more aloof, from what I know of their traditions. Jesus was definitely the man of the streets!

"The only reason to ask for money is for a good cause".

I too would like some follow-up.

Nan said...

Yes, she has friends! But not for this dance class. Its a new one, adult, and dancers coming from all over after work and school. But its working out okay. We're going to take a break for it and replace it with something closer and more accessible after Christmas. Funny tho, she went from being super/hyper vigilant on the "street" (and the bus and out in public) to this. She is a person of extremes and goes back and forth testing limits until she finds the right balance.