Same street, different story
Stories matter. They matter so much we will cling to them even when they are no longer working, even when they are contrary to the evidence of our own eyes.
I’m thinking of a story, of course. In this case, it’s the story of two neighbours. The location is Rochester, New York. The time is the late 1970s and early 1980s.
On one side of the street lives a young couple. They have moved from Seattle, Washington, so the man can start his professorial career. The woman has come along, as women have done for generations.They don’t want to buy a second car so they look for a house near the university. They’re sure of his job. She’ll have to look for hers. So they opt for a neighbourhood within walking distance of his office.
They can see the houses were built by people who took pride in their work. In the basements are brass plaques with the names of the builders. Gumwood trim lines every room. Floors are oak; fittings are brass.
The neighbourhood is in a downward spiral. Once a solidly middle-class area, it has been emptied of people afraid of a mixed-race street. Some houses are boarded up. Most shelter families managing to make payments, mow the lawn, plant gardens, and welcome new people. Houses are affordable.
The young couple settles in. They meet the neighbours. They make payments, mow the lawn, plant a garden, and exchange friendly greetings. They invite new friends to dinner, polish the woodwork, read the New York Times and talk about how much they enjoy their new home.
Across the street lives another couple. They are in their 70s and have lived in their white-painted house for decades. They have watched the neighbourhood change. It is no longer homogenous. People have moved away. Some houses are boarded up.
Every day they read the local paper. They track every break-in, act of vandalism, and assault in the city. Although none of those happen on their street, they could.
They live in fear. Their neighbourhood is dangerous. They wish they could move, but property values are low. They don’t understand why the young couple feels safe, why they chose to live on this street.
Same street. Same neighbourhood. Different stories.
I know this is a true story because I was the young wife who uprooted from Seattle and found a job with the Rochester Public Library and then with the Greece School District. I was living in this house when I stumbled onto storytelling and became a life-long convert. But the neighbourhood I lived in was very different from my neighbours’ because they believed a different story.
Stories. They’re like colored glasses. They tint our view of the world. We must choose them carefully.