A confession: when we are discussing the pros and cons of an apartment to rent, our family has come to use a rather disrespectful shorthand for one particular criterion.
How “killy” the street or block has become the self-defining descriptor of choice used as a gauge by my college-aged offspring to assess the relative safety of an address at which they might rent accommodation. Factors include the relative severity of violent and violating incidents, plotted against an axis of frequency. “There’s less crime west of High,” eldest observes wisely, “but when it happens there, it tends to be really bad.” Whereas the odd gunshot at the corner gas station becomes, it would seem, par for the course.
Last fall, one of my parishioners lost his eldest child to a gas station gunshot. As I talked with the bereaved father, as I listened to him telling me how unnecessary it was for them to kill him, I was struck by the gulf between the infinite value that this man placed upon the life he had carried in his arms; and the wealth of love, life, possibilities that had been wantonly discounted and discarded, wasted by his killers.
Is it the case, I wonder, that as we have made it so easy and so commonplace to kill that we have devalued life itself in our common currency?
Even our language has changed (I am speaking for myself). In the face of foggy threats to lives and our loves beyond our control, we revert to a childish shorthand that deflects and denies and diminishes danger, and draws us together in our little circle of hope, and family.
I think I need to change my language. Perhaps it’s time to grow up and face the real grief behind the reputation that labels a street, a block as “a bit killy.” I know the value of my own son’s life. The boy passing through, the woman pumping gas, the drunken man stumbling by the gas station are worth nothing less. Nor even, nor even the one waiting with a gun, if he but knew it.