Saturday, September 24, 2005

In The Neighborhood

The neighborhood where I work is a troubled area rife with poverty and its discontents: drugs, crime, and frequent violence. As I noted in a November post, my car was broken into prior to Thanksgiving and I lost my car stereo and a sense of safety and invulnerability.

Some other neighborly incidents:

One day last year, I was exiting the clinic with a doctor with whom I work. We came outside for a breath of fresh air around 3pm and immediately noticed something was wrong: his car, a 99 Honda Accord, was sitting on four plastic milk crates, all four wheels having been removed while the car sat in the clinic parking lot in broad daylight! Those 99 Hondas are a hot item!

Our noble medical director fought to have a small store included in the plan for the building in which the clinic has been housed for some years now. The little store caters to the Latino population in the neighborhood and supplies many elders with milk, avocados, and many Latino staples at decent prices, the store being a short walk from the nearby subsidized housing projects. There are often electric wheelachairs and scooters parked outside--the store is too small for even a small wheelchair, and only two school-age children are allowed in at a time to protect against shop-lifting. That said, the windows of the little store are broken with bricks and stones---and occasionally bullets---an average of four to six times a year. This Latino-run business serves the community well, but still suffers from vandalism, which could cause increased prices or possibly a permanently closed store.

Just outside the store, the landlord paid for some lovely shrubs to be planted a few years ago. The following week when we returned from a long weekend, the shrubs had been stolen, dug out from the ground with their root-systems still intact. Luckily, the replacement shrubs have escaped a similar fate.

Last week, one of my favorite docs was working late at the clinic, attending an HIV providers' meeting and finishing some notes. He left the building and began to back his car out of the lot, but remembered something on his desk and ran back inside, locking his car behind him. He was only in the building for ten minutes, but by the time he came out, his trunk was broken open, a window smashed, and all of the contents of his car had disappeared: stethoscope, brief case, car stereo, CD collection, and other flotsam and jetsam. This particular doctor works 50 hours per week, splitting his time between the clinic and the county jail, where he provides award-winning HIV-care for incarcerated men and women. His dedication to medically underpriviledged populations is an inspiration.

The same night as the theft from this doctor's car, a teenager was knifed to death just three blocks from our clinic on a street where many of our patients live. The son of one of our patients witnessed the murder---as did a dozen other people, it seems---but no one is talking and the perpetrator was never apprehended.

So, this is my work neighborhood, but this area is also graced by hundreds of lovely and giving people, a community garden worthy of a Puerto Rican "finca", the sounds of children and adults in the park on sunny afternoons. I am greeted daily with salutations of "hola", "buenos dias, doctor", and "Dios te bendiga" (God bless you). It is a microcosm of the wider world. I love it, I hate it, I long to leave it, and I cannot think of doing so. It is my neighborhood for more than forty hours each week, and it is in my blood. Although I generally feel safer in New York City than I do in the city in which I choose to work, I feel protected and blessed, knowing that my karma of service will shield me from harm and mistreatment.

May all beings be happy. May all beings be free from suffering, and may this neighborhood---and all places where people and animals make their homes---be blessed with freedom from violence, from Boise to Baghdad. This is my wish in this moment. May we all strive to make it so.
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