by Jim Wehner
I haven’t run in the neighborhood for two weeks. I think about why as I sit on my couch pulling on my running shoes. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I have an internal sense of dread about running down Lakewood Avenue.
You might be thinking, “Duh, I feel that every time I exercise!” But that is not what is driving me. I’m one of those weird personalities that likes to run. I do some of my best thinking while I run.
As I sit there, I think back to why I’m avoiding something I enjoy. I have run a number of times in the neighborhood since we moved into South Atlanta last March. Running in the city is definitely different than running in the suburbs. Sidewalks exist, but you have to keep your mind active to avoid tripping. If you’re on the road, you have to be much more aware of traffic. Somehow it seems less relaxing.
Two weeks ago, I went for a run on a Saturday morning. It was 7:45 am, and I was jogging down Lakewood Avenue. About a block ahead of me, a man across the street stumbled out of a house. He was in bad shape, still reeling from the previous night’s party. As I passed, he tottered into the middle of the street. I noticed he was carrying a can of beer. Then, all of the sudden, he chucked the can at me. Fortunately, his aim was impaired, and the beer landed off target before bursting open and spraying everywhere.
In the moment, I avoided confrontation and just kept running. It was not by willpower or maturity, but simple inability to respond to the anger of my neighbor. Later, I kept wishing I’d had the wherewithal to stop, pick up the can, take a drink, and say “Thanks!” But it didn’t happen.
Today, two weeks later, I realize I’m dealing with residual anger and fear. The experience has made me feel unsafe. I have a strong sense of being out of place. I’m wondering if I have made a mistake by moving into the neighborhood.
Not wanting to be shaped by fear, I push forward and head down the street. As I run, my mind clears a bit, and I think about the good things happening in the neighborhood. There are new neighbors on both sides of my house, and I’m enjoying meeting them. The person living behind our house has the most amazing backyard I’ve ever seen. He works to bring beauty to his corner of the neighborhood. And he’s really good at it!
We are receiving our first vegetable harvest from our garden, which has been a fun project. My neighbor across the street is a senior I love to talk with. She is always friendly and engaging. Last week, I ran into Mr. Haygood, another neighborhood senior, as he cleaned a vacant property on the corner of my block. Next time, I hope to join him in this effort.
These are the reasons we moved to the neighborhood. Over the years of working with FCS and meeting many people like these neighbors, we wanted to be part of the community. I was reminded as I ran how easy it is to get discouraged and off track. We let the worries of the world choke out the beauty of the day.
As I continue down the street, I find myself giving thanks for the opportunity to participate in this little neighborhood and for the experience which reminds me of the good God is already working here. This somehow seems to be the work of the Spirit changing me, not the neighborhood! I am no longer running on empty but have a sense of joy in the process.