Last week I went on a tour in part of Detroit. I’ll be honest. I’ve only been to Detroit to see a football game and I can only remember Ford Field. But that was a long time ago.
Things are different now. Much different.
My husband works in the outlying Detroit area. He is not downtown but rather in one of the neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area. He took me on a tour of the neighborhood where he works and and we slowly made our way downtown.
I was not prepared for what I saw.
Vacancy on all fronts. Homes, buildings, streets empty and crumbling. The landscape was wide, plenty of space for a lot of people. But nobody was there. Okay there were some people milling around. But not enough to fill the space called Detroit.
As we traveled down the road I saw house after house, building after building boarded up, windows and doors kicked out, garbage, furniture, appliances, you name it, strewn all over the place. Buildings were literally falling apart from the inside out. I was speechless. Yea, it’s not a safe place at times. There is reason for caution, my husband has heard enough from people who live there to verify this. But it’s not the case for most people. He was comfortable, I was more cautious. I kept thinking. This is an American city, how can this be?
And then, I had to go. You know…I had to take care of a few things. We had finished dinner earlier and I didn’t take care of business before I left. We were in the thick of the neighborhood and turning around meant a 25 minute back which would have cut into our schedule. Suddenly a magical yellow sign appeared. Ah, yes, a McDonalds stood all alone on the next corner. (You have to keep in mind, there aren’t businesses or gas stations in amply supply, it’s desolate there.)
I’ll be totally honest. I wasn’t too thrilled about getting out of the car at this point. But I had to do what I had to do. When we pulled in the parking lot we parked next to a car that had a club on their steering wheel. (A device to keep people from stealing the car.) I was not amused.
I went in the door and immediately walked toward the bathrooms. A young woman was sitting at a table with headphones and a lap top busy working on something. She was dressed like a male rapper that you see on MTV. Her eyes looked up at me and without moving she said,
“You need to be buzzed in.”
“Excuse me.” I looked back puzzled.
“To use the bathroom you have to be buzzed in.” Still not moving a muscle.
“Thanks” I said.
I went up to the counter, waiting behind others ordering their dinner. Finally it’s my turn.
The clerk buzzed me in and I was in the bathroom. Now I didn’t know whether to feel safe or scared being locked in? I decided that I was uncomfortable at best and worked quickly to get out. I noticed that the bathroom was a little messy. Toilet paper knocked down and paper towels on the floor. But I didn’t stay long. I thanked the girl who informed me about the buzzing when I walked out and I was safely back the car to continue our tour.
As we drove around the question that kept coming to me was. What can I do? How could I make a difference? Witnessing the discouraged communities made my heart ache to help, to bring hope, to comfort to make something better for someone else.
Vacant places calls something deep inside of me.
I wrestled with this the rest of our ride. It was just about the time we arrived back to our hotel that a realization hit me between my eyes.
I could have picked up the garbage off the bathroom floor!
That’s what I could have done. The mess was right in front of me and I could have done something and I didn’t. I was too concerned about getting out of the mess that it never occurred to me to stop and clean things up for the next person who had to be buzzed in.
Isn’t that the way it goes though. We see the mess and we are in a hurry to get away from it or we like to pick and choose which mess we are willing to clean up. I’m guilting of thinking: I didn’t create this mess, why should I clean it up? It’s true, we can’t put blame on ourselves for others’ mistakes, but we can bring something good into it when given the opportunity.
I was given an opportunity and I missed it.
Bringing good is often small and unseen. It doesn’t boast. It just cleans up the place for somebody else from time to time. It’s not concerned about getting noticed. It says, I didn’t make this mess but I can help in this one way, albeit small, to make things better for someone else.
My heart sunk when I fully realized what happened.
A friend shared with me once a long time ago that his goal is to always leave places and people in better shape than when he found them.
I think that’s a good motto to live by. Hopefully getting buzzed at McDonalds last week will help me remember it!