“I wanted to stab him. I told him if he didn’t apologize we could take it outside. I woulda stabbed him.”
Aghast, I stared off into the distance. What if he has a knife on him right now? I wondered. Could he stab me?
Juxtaposed with the conversation, I noticed the beauty of my surroundings: greenery everywhere, wind blowing through trees, tall grass growing along the path. This was my happy place – until it wasn’t.
My friend of over a year was standing before me telling me he considered stabbing a mutual friend of ours, a man who had been incredibly dedicated to him as he encountered extensive medical issues. But something our mutual friend said ticked him off, and his immediate thought was to … stab him?
I had no box for this. “Tommy,” my brow furrowed, “why would you stab him?”
“Elisabeth, I grew up in gangs. That’s how we deal with stuff.”
As I have reflected on this encounter with my homeless friend “Tommy” over the past six months, I have come to realize something …
Violence, foreign to me, is common to some of my friends on the streets. And not only is it common to them now, as homeless adults, but many grew up immersed in a community shrouded in violence. For many, the violence began in their homes; the perpetrators, their parents.
Violence – stabbing someone – is a coping mechanism, plain and simple. When my friend Tommy told me of his desire to stab our mutual friend, I felt not only fear but also very far from him. I felt very “other,” very different.
But as has happened countless times since I adopted South Dallas and South Dallas adopted me, the dividing lines between us have gotten blurry.
Here’s what I mean: I now understand that the capability for violence exists inside me as much as it does inside any one of my homeless friends. I may not react violently when I am angry, but that is mostly due to factors outside of my control. Some of them include my upbringing, my ability to afford counseling, and my extensive support system, those who would come to my aid were I to find myself struggling to cope well.
And I am learning that this is where grace lives, where dividing lines disappear.
Here, in this space of grace, it is no longer “me” and “them” – it is just us.