I’ve lived in the greater Chicago area since 2007. Since then, Chi-town has become the most violent city in the United States. Even though the Chicago homicide rate has decreased 34 percent this year compared to 2012, people are still dying every day. 54 people were shot dead in Chicago during the Zimmerman trial in July, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was killed as an innocent bystander in a South Side drive-by in January, and many others have lost their lives in gang violence, crossfire, or targeted violence all across the city in recent months and years.
I remember crying every morning before I left to go report on the Northwest side of Chicago during my time as a grad student at the Medill School of Journalism in 2012. “Double homicide on Pulaski,” I read on my RSS feed just before I stepped onto the CTA with an audio recorder, paper, and pen.
Even though my tears stained numerous homework assignments and I almost tossed my cookies at various points throughout my graduate school curriculum, I survived. And here I am, a year after completing my degree, all in one piece. I survived “the streets,” learned how to pray a lot, and am now wandering the streets of cities all over the U. S., finding stories I didn’t even know I was looking for. Last week I was teaching at a writers’ conference in Philadelphia when I decided to visit the Liberty Bell. On my way to the train, I ducked into 7-Eleven for a Slurpee to wash down a Philly Cheesesteak I’d grabbed from a street vendor, and attempted to make some conversation with the girl at the register.
“Do you play basketball?” I asked as I caught sight of a basketball-beaded bracelet hanging from her right wrist.
“No, this is for my friend that died,” she said.
Then I saw her point to the “R-I-P–H-P-L” beads between the basketballs.
Next I walked across the street to the Burlington Coat Factory. I thought I might find some shoes on sale for cheap.
“How long have you lived in Philly?” I asked Dorothy, my sales clerk.
“All my life,” she said as she scanned the mesh gym shorts I’d chosen to buy. “Born and raised.”
“Do you like it?”
“It’s all right, I guess,” she said. “Lots of violence.”
As I put in my headphones to drown out the sounds of a world wracked with violence and depression, I realized no amount of Jesus music could drown out the depressing reality surrounding me. Life is not easy, and a lot of times, it can really suck. Before I can mope for too long, though, I always remember that Jesus came to save us and overcome the world and all it’s troubles. That doesn’t mean we won’t suffer during our time on Earth–Jesus hung on a cross and died a slow and painful death, after all–but it does mean Jesus was resurrected from the dead. And that changes everything.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” -Romans 12:12