I drive through the east side of Detroit on my way to and from work, and I often take surface streets even though it adds a few minutes to my commute. Some of the neighborhoods I drive through are relatively intact, but others are in shambles. Businesses, houses and garages, abandoned. City blocks with only a few buildings still standing.
“Neglected” is the word that comes to mind. I sometimes say it out loud as I drive, “neglected.” I say it with a deep sadness.
I am both attracted to and repelled by the sights along my commute. I force myself to look, though, to commit to memory the consequences of neglect. Broken windows, roofs caved in, overgrown lawns.
I try to imagine how this happened, which is really not that difficult. The neglect probably started small, one house on a street abandoned, and then another and another. Perhaps neighbors stepped up to maintain the yards of abandoned homes, but that can only go on for so long. Eventually, when enough people just walk away from their homes and businesses, things just deteriorate.
This morning, as I contemplated the neglect I saw on my commute, I was aware of an inner conflict. In some kind of cosmic sense, I realized that I relate to the buildings I drive past. This city and these buildings are a part of my history. They are a part of me.
And in their state of disrepair and dilapidation, they beg me to consider how my plight is linked to theirs.
What am I neglecting? I wondered. Not so much externally, but internally. What parts of my inner self, my inner life, am I neglecting?
I remember a prayer Jim once gave me. “I saw this,” he said “and thought it was the perfect prayer for you.” The prayer read:
Lord, help me to accept the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.
I remember reading those words that first time and gasping when I reached the word “beautiful.” “Ugly” was the word I had anticipated.
Jim was right that I would need God’s help to accept anything beautiful about myself. I could not even see it, let alone accept it.
Now, driving through these neglected neighborhoods, I hear God inviting me to accept those parts of myself that I have neglected—before they crumble.
Perhaps this city also has an inner beauty which was not recognized or accepted and I am being invited to look beyond the exterior to see the truth that is Detroit’s beauty.