Having just moved to a new city about two months ago, I must admit that I am still quite dependent on my GPS. Any time I emerge from the now-familiar, two-mile-radius bubble of my neighborhood, Google Maps becomes my constant companion.
The interesting thing about GPS is that its priority is not to find me the most scenic drive, the most well-kept neighborhood to drive through, or even the most familiar way around town. Rather, its route planning is based on one fundamental goal: finding the fastest, shortest, most efficient route.
A few weeks ago, I had an appointment on the other side of the city during rush hour. As I fought impatiently against the throngs of people coming home from work, I fired up my GPS to help beat the traffic. Soon enough, that trusty device diverted me to the back roads where the streets were free and the drive was almost effortless.
Fairly quickly, I had no idea where I was, even though I wasn’t much more than five minutes from my house. I felt lost in an area of town I had no idea was just around the corner. In fact, I drove that evening through one of the rougher neighborhoods in town, a neighborhood I may have never set foot in had it not been for my tardiness and intolerance of traffic.
In spite of my time crunch, I slowed down. I began to take in my surroundings. Brick buildings with crumbling foundations. Shattered glass windows. Vandalized train cars. Roads speckled with potholes. Chain-link fences. A corner drug store in a run-down building. Litter. Haphazard roads weaving through train tracks. Small, old homes, each one almost on top of its neighbor. Overgrown lawns.
I will admit, my first impressions of this place were not glamorous.
Yet the more I slowed down, and the more I explored with my eyes, the more my heart slowly filled with the beauty of this place.
Yes, this place is beautiful.
This place is beautiful because it has a history, because it has a story, because it has a people. People invest their lives here and raise families in these old, full-of-character homes. Children play in these overgrown lawns. Boys and girls walk home from school here, running their fingers along the chain-link fences. The spray paint scenes on building walls and train cars are visible signs of human expression and voice.
As most people recognize, we still live a very segregated way of life in this twenty-first century America. Regardless of whether or not it is intentional, it is true. It is striking that because of this reality, I may have never passed through this neighborhood if it hadn’t been for the efficiency of my GPS. This place may have never been known to me. And despite my momentary presence during Tuesday’s rush hour traffic, it will remain voiceless, unknown, and forgotten to so many others.
As people have been pushed out of this rapidly growing city, this neighborhood is where they have come and will continue to come—it may be the only place they feel like they belong anymore. This is where they live their lives and where they make meaning and where they see the world. That is valuable, and that is beautiful. That is worth knowing.
I have concluded that I need to get lost in my new city more often. I need to turn off the GPS and seek out these neighborhoods for their own significance in and of themselves. I need to explore the places without a voice, the places that are pushed away, because in these places there is a people loved by God. These are places loved by God, and they are a valuable part of His world. That is beautiful in and of itself.