My first apartment was part of a house that had been updated into four apartments. I was living in the downtown area of a small town, next to a laundromat and a pizza parlor. My studio apartment was on the second floor, below a single dad who had partial custody of his kids (I could tell by how hearing the shouting and racing feet). I never saw or heard my other neighbors other than doors opening and closing. I had moved into the place quickly; desperate to move out of a room I was renting from a woman who had decided everything I did was wrong and spoke often on the phone about putting all of my things on the front lawn. Desperate times lead to desperate measures.
As a 23-year-old far from home, I found a new home quick and cheap. To fight against the fear of this new space, I would remind myself that there was a 24-hour McDonald’s across the street. I told myself that if anything happened, I would go there and get help. I intentionally chose to believe those strangers would help me.
When I moved to Portland, I had two weeks between accepting the position and my first day of work. Moving into such a large city, I had no idea how to find an apartment. So I headed over to residence life for the college I had just gotten a job at. In a truly #blessed outcome, there was a student apartment available for rent. One bedroom for an amazing price and walking distance to my new desk. I’d end up living in that space for a year and a half.
Over time I got to know two of my neighbors well. The rest remained strangers, with occasional waves in the parking lot. And yet they made me feel safe in the big city. I knew that behind every door in the complex was someone connected with the same college I was part of. I felt that I could walk up any door, show my school ID, and be helped. I believed quite easily that these strangers would help me.
I still live in the big city, though in a different apartment. My neighbors are from all over the world. I hear diverse languages every day in the parking lot and sneak a peek through the window at the kids playing together. I am back to waving and smiling in the parking lot, or just head nods of respect if that is what someone else offers first. In this season of Covid-19 and social unrest, I don’t know if I could walk up to their doors for help. It is not so much that I would not trust them, it is more questioning if they would trust me. Would they open the door to this White woman on the other side? Would I be the stranger they could believe in?
All around the city there has been an exponential growth in tents and tent villages as more people are living outside. Near a favorite running route, I saw an intentional set-up with a fence, garbage storage, hand sanitizer, and running water. In another area, it was a set of four tents huddled together along a brick wall; on the other side of the wall is the highway. Every few blocks there is a van or camper that has been in the same place for weeks and most windows are covered. So many people trying to find safety alone or near others. So many human beings that are just like me, wondering where to go if they need someone.
We all just want our village.