(Although I am damned good with a machete. Zombies, take note.)
But last spring, during a service at our church's downtown location which was entitled, sadly enough, "Music for the Soul," a cab driver was murdered quite literally on our church doorstep. When the service was over, we had to exit through the kitchen door because the front of the building was a freakin' crime scene.
Since then, we have had the Colorado Theater shooting, the Sikh Temple shooting, and all manner of greater or lesser gun-related mayhem and murder incidents. The public response has ranged from a concerned "we have finally got to get rid of these guns" to the idiotic "well, if I'd been there carrying, it would have been different." (A side note to my idiot nephew-in-law: No, if you had been "carrying" at the Colorado movie theater, you would not have been a hero, you would have made things infinitely worse. Anyone who thinks that returning gunfire in a smoke-filled, darkened room full of panicked people AND CHILDREN would be a good idea is an idiot, an imbecile, and a complete waste of human tissue. Now go complain to Mommy so she can write me a snotty e-mail.)
Without rehashing every incident since the end of last Spring, let me just cut to the most recent incident, back at our downtown church location yesterday. A young teenaged man was shot dead in the grassy plot our church uses for parking yesterday afternoon at 4:00 PM. His assailant escaped.
When I first joined the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, it was solely at a suburban location. Since then we have changed ministers, grown substantially, and acquired an old brick church downtown in an admittedly terrible neighborhood so that, among other things, those of our congregation who wished to do so could not only talk the talk of social justice work, but also walk the walk.
I am ashamed to admit it, but I am not one of those people. I do not like the downtown location. I have not felt comfortable there, ever, but since the murder on our front steps last spring, I no longer feel safe there. When we must attend services there, I do not find it spiritually fulfilling; I am simply counting the minutes until I can end the panic attack that being there kicks me into and get the hell out of there.
It's no way to attend church. It's no way to attend anything.
Now an 18-year-old was shot dead where I park my car. Quite literally, on the spot on the sidewalk next to where I park my car. And not at 3:00 AM or some other time when I am unlikely to be down there. It was in broad daylight, during an hour that I might be there. Since I retired I am constantly pressured to volunteer my time more, and I cannot seem to get across the idea that I do not feel safe there. It's not a place that I would normally go, not under any circumstances whatsoever. I worked hard to get out of the similarly crappy part of South Philadelphia, thank you very much, and I have zero desire to go back and help out. Again, I am somewhat ashamed of my attitude, but it is what it is. I can appreciate with my head that gun incidents could -- and do -- happen anywhere, and that downtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is no more or less likely than any other place ... except we've had two murders right on our corner this year.
And they say lightning doesn't strike twice. Horse hockey.
At the end of the day, at least for right now, I don't feel safe there, and I won't be going there except under extreme pressure and duress. It's going to be a long time before I feel comfortable in that neighborhood, if ever. I had to be there this past Sunday and I about jumped out of my skin when the inevitable police/fire/ambulance/whatever-it's-always-something siren went off right outside during the church service.
My gut feeling is that it's only a matter of time before it's a friend or a family member who's killed down there. And I'm just not ready to have that particular memorial service.