Reinterpreting Our Alarm System

There’s a raw and naked peculiarity around Haywood Street that sometimes feels antagonizing. The tangible reality of our humanness laid bare under the worn blankets in the parking lot. Revealed in the faces sketched on the walls and painted in the fresco. It’s heard in the impassioned shouts that disguise people’s pleas for connection. To those unaccustomed to the harshness of life on the margins, the atmosphere, unpredictable and uncontrollable, provokes a survival response that feels uncomfortable and threatening.

It makes sense, though, that the body sounds the alarm when confronted with things that are unfamiliar and difficult to make sense of—like homelessness, mental illness, or addiction. These are some of humanity’s bleaker realities, realities that are often layered within lineages of trauma passed on through generations unable to find liberation.

Traced down to the genes that code us and make us, trauma has the potential to alter a person’s ability to make decisions, weigh consequences, or sustain healthy, lasting attachments with other people. Trauma can make someone incoherent, and the strangeness of that triggers our alarm system, warning that something feels wrong.

The person fighting addiction who goes to rehab only to get out and relapse before making it the next street over. The woman who struggles to stay sober long enough to get her children back. The man flying a sign that says, “Homeless. Anything helps,” who uses that money to cover his rent-subsidized apartment.

But, when a person is reduced to only what’s visible, to a story that lacks the empathic thoughtfulness to imagine a less palatable reality hiding from view, we risk denying the good in that person, and our collective humanity is jeopardized.

The effects of trauma and the knee-jerk reactions that follow contradict God’s desire for our shared freedom and restoration. So, let us reinterpret the alarm as an invitation to move closer to what feels wrong. Let us begin moving through the world understanding that the life in front of us is more complex than what is seen but no less worthy of love and dignity. Then we will come nearer to experiencing our mutual deliverance into wholeness foretold within the promise of God’s Kingdom Come.

Maybe this is naïve thinking. But if being naïve means inviting what’s good and tragic, what’s beautifully intricate, then isn’t that okay? Maybe God’s hope for humanity is realized when creation, in all of our suffering, is embraced by the shared compassion we have for one another. Perhaps we’d discover that God’s vision, God’s longing, for humanity is revealed in a child-like hope such as that.

Haywood Street is often a reminder of our mortality and powerlessness. If we lean into the unknown, though, the overwhelm of not having control might expose the hidden intricacies of life, the hopeful and the hard to swallow.

Over the next several weeks, we invite you to take the risk of leaning into what’s difficult to understand, to ask questions, and to consider that maybe humanity’s collective hope hangs on the empathic participation of each one of us.

–Written by Lead Storyteller, Melanee Rizk

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