As I was riding over the Manhattan Bridge on the Q train late this afternoon, a question, posed to me by a friend in reference to the Brooklyn neighborhood in which I lived, popped into my head:
“Do you feel safe?” she had asked me.
I told her I did, and it’s true. I do. My neighborhood is mostly Hispanic families living in four-story apartment buildings. Kids throw balls in the street and open the fire hydrants during the summer. There’s a hospital, the Fire Kutz Barber Shop, dozens of places to eat polla a la braza, and all the auto repair shops you could ask for. The neighborhood has a history of poverty, crime and violence, and still has a number of run-down buildings and shady businesses, but ask anyone in the neighborhood, and they’ll tell you it’s changing: kids like me, too broke to live in Williamsburg or the East Village but too rich to move home to our parents, are flocking to neighborhoods like Bushwick where the rent is relatively cheap and we can feel relatively safe. It’s hard to know what’s the cause and what’s the effect, but there are clearly more police on the street corners, more recognizable chain restaurants, and a whole section of Boar’s Head cold cuts in the local grocery store.
My friend’s question came to mind while trying to understand, as best I could, the news via the New York Times. Someone had given me the paper before I got on the train, and with no other reading to attend to, (I had just finished Love in the Time of Cholera), I started to skim the headlines.
“Libyan War Traps Poor Immigrants at Tripoli’s Edge,” a headline read. I started in on the article, the first of several in the front page section about the current situation in Libya, but I had trouble focusing. The truth was, I didn’t know anything about the situation in Libya, and the more I read, the more information I realized I was missing. I skimmed the sentences four, five, six times, but I didn’t recognize the jargon, the players, the cities.
While the sentences themselves continued to lack clarity for me, the overall tone of the articles suddenly came in to focus: There’s a war going on in Libya. An uprising. People are revolting, risking their very lives, to oust a dictator.
People are risking their lives.
And then my friend’s question: Do I feel safe?
Another headline: “Absent Police Chief Fired in Mexico.” The article was short but clear. Twenty-year-old Marisol Valles Garcia, hired when no one else would take the job of patrolling the “drug ravaged border town,” requested a three day leave of absence to care for her baby son. On Monday she failed to show up for work and was promptly fired. The article speculated on the cause of her disappearance: Did she run off because she was threatened by the drug gangs? “A previous police chief had been beheaded… Town officials, however, were not alarmed. ‘We are confident that she is safe in some place,’ Mr. Morales said.”
Do I feel safe?
“Autopsies in Tucson Are Released.” It took me two paragraphs to recognize this tragedy, but when I did, I was shocked I could have forgotten those images played over and over on the TV at the gym: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on that strecher, being raced to the ambulance with her life-saving aide at her side; Jared Lee Laughner’s smile and his orange jump-suit; Christina-Taylor Green, a 9/11 baby and the recently elected student council president at Mesa Verde Elementary, eagerly awaiting a meeting with her councilwoman. “Yellow metal earrings with blue stones are in place,” read Christina-Taylor’s autopsy report.
Do I feel safe?
The real question, I began to think, was how could I feel anything but safe? My sense of security is such that I take it for granted. Sure, sometimes this gets me into trouble (see previous post). And sometimes I get edgy when I’m walking home late at night and I hear someone’s too-eager footsteps following me down the block, or when a cat-call is more of a threat than a compliment, or when I step off the curb only to jump back on it, narrowly avoiding the Mac truck hurtling down the street. But with my wits about me, and good luck protecting me, I rarely feel in danger.
How did I get so damn lucky?
I have a friend who would call me out for whining about what she’d term my “first-world problems.” Whoa is me, I can’t understand the news. Whoa is me, I’m safe and I feel guilty about it. Whoa is me- what if my luck runs out?
Sometimes I worry that my life lacks excitement and glamour, that I’ll wake up one day and wonder how I managed to live out my years without anything ever really happening to me. But then I pick up the paper and remember- there’s nothing like reading the news to make me feel gratitude toward a life that is so safe and boring.