Giving Attention to Intention
Rats crawl through the rafters. Gunshots echo in the distance. Summer memories from long ago living in Philadelphia’s ghettos.
Sirens scream, voices cry. Gangs fight; prostitutes hail. Addicts crave; homeless hunger.
Memories triggered by a “Broad Street” sign – my collegiate summer home – causes the past to seep into the present.
Then, I came as a volunteer to save teenage souls lost in the asphalt jungle.
Today, as a marketing speaker at a national business conference.
Then, I hitched a ride with a friend living in Philadelphia.
Today, I hailed a taxi, the driver a stranger, an immigrant from Africa.
Then, we drove from the airport to the hospital intensive care
To visit his friend, shot seven times in a gang war the night before.
Today, my chauffeur delivers me to the comfort of my conference hotel
To the embrace of a receptionist’s warm smile.
Tonight, I safely lie on my cushy bed, reliving distant memories,
Then, the sounds of rats, gunshots and sirens.
Now, the menacing moan of the air conditioner.
It was the summer of 1972. I volunteered to help save an inner city filled with hatred and war. Our faith-based group filled with love and peace. Philadelphia means the city of brotherly love? We renamed it the city of brotherly shove. I walked through the housing projects, inviting kids to impromptu neighborhood entertainment. We stretched a rope across a street, hung a white sheet, setup a table and movie projector, and magic – we had a theatre.
One day, I knocked on a front door and while talking with a broken woman, we were interrupted by a nearby shotgun blast. I spun toward the street . All had ran for safety, except the poor guy lying on the scorching pavement, his stomach half gone – a drug deal gone bad.
Life was cheap. I remember rocks thrown at our van, threatening screams of “Honky, get out of our turf”, yet being unafraid. Why? Was it because I was young, idealistic, naïve, or full of abundant love? Yes.
I remember the church bus ride to summer camp, a week for inner city kids to find freedom from the imprisonment of their asphalt jungle. I remember the fight in the back of the bus, grabbing the knife from the child-killer-wanna-be, and learning the argument was about the view outside the bus window – in the pasture one kid said was a horse; the other said it was a cow. Neither had ever seen either.
Life was cheap.I remember the stifling, humid, summer heat, so hot we were given a special firefighter’s tool to open the fire hydrant and transform the city fixture into a neighborhood water fountain. It was soothing medication to the festering wounds of the inner city.
I remember I came to give but instead received. I came to change their lives. But instead, they changed mine. I would never be the same.Ghetto kids surrounded by sadness and hatred taught me laughter and love come from friends and family; not from possessions, power or position. They taught me to be grateful for what I have today, because tomorrow I could have none of it – including my own life. They taught me when we give, we get, which are true wealth and riches. It’s a paradox how those who have so little teach us who have so much.
So, today, like decades ago, fear loses its power over me as I speak and write words some may reject or seek new business relationships some may rebuff. The past teaches me in the present:
To give attention to my intention
To love as I have been loved
For the words are true:
“Perfect love casts out fear.”