When I first came to New York, the Lower East Side was a dangerous place. I can still remember the warnings to be “street smart” when I ventured into the neighborhood to get the best pickles in town. It is incredibly ironic that I have had an apartment in the same building as I used to buy half-sours and sauerkraut. In those days I walked the streets on the alert. The idea of being in the area after dark filled me with fear. Even the proposition of walking on Essex at sunset was frightening. Visitors and residents warned me. Their words, backed up by the signals in the eyes and body language, told me that I was always close to danger.
Today it is a very different place. The strongest indicator of the change is not found in the kids playing tennis and basketball across the street. It does not come through the cutting edge fashion stores. Even the spas and restaurants fail to send the loudest signal. The ultimate statement is found in the LES children. I cannot count the number of strollers that one dodges at all hours of the day! Mothers blissfully taking their kids out at dusk and even into the darkness of the night. Children are walking and giggling, casually running free from their parent’s watchful eyes.
I find the story told by the eyes of Lower East Side children to be the a lesson I would do well to remember. There is no memory of fear because they only know peace. There are no scars because of evil’s touch has not penetrated the community’s cloak. There is no reluctance because they have only known freedom.
You and I possess the same invitation these kids know as reality. God has and is reach out to each; “Let the wicked abandon their way of life and the evil their way of thinking. Let them come back to God, who is merciful, come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness.” (Isaiah 55.7) With a child’s heart, a new day begins.
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