We sat on the steps, looking out on the over-grown field. The person who has introduced me to the neighborhood begins to describe some of the activities that take place in this area. The bodies that people in the drug cartels and gangs leave in the park in the dark of night. The fights that happen here at night, including a gun battle in which most of his gang was killed. He described laying face-first on the ground when they killed his boss, who was right next to him. After more than a decade of street life selling drugs and participating in gangs, in Mexico, in the US, and back in Mexico, that was the moment he quit. The only moment it was really possible to leave, actually, considering that nearly everyone else was killed.
And now we looked out over the park and he saw beyond the violence. He looked at the overgrown flowers by the soccer field and envisioned a tidy garden. He saw the tall grass on the soccer field and the baseball diamond and imagined it trimmed down, ready to play on. He pointed out the path leading to some picnic tables and described how they could improve the lighting in that section to stop gangs from using the space to drop dead bodies.
Even as the area holds a long history of violence, he sees beyond. Just as he hopes that other people will see beyond. He wishes that people in the communities around the park could see beyond his tattoos and trust him enough to sign the petition he had written up to make the improvements that he envisioned. He hopes that the government sees beyond the current state of affairs and invests money to improve the park. He wishes that his friends would see beyond the drugs that they use and help him in the effort.
It isn’t always easy to see beyond. When I witnessed a knife fight across the street the last time I was in the neighborhood, I had to remind myself why I even came. But as a priest said in mass a few days ago, “el miedo nos impide de vivir en plena libertad” (fear stops us from living in full freedom). Fear is often a logical response to an obvious reality. Yet what if there is more to reality than what is obvious?
If we could let go of fear, perhaps we could have the full freedom not just see beyond but also love beyond. After all, God certainly sees beyond every day when it comes to his love for us. If we live in that vision and love we could change lives and communities, whether in Guadalajara or San Gabriel or our own cities or neighborhoods. Perhaps one day his vision of the park will become a reality.