The police officer rolled down the window of his cruiser and asked me a question I’d never been asked in my life: “Would you consider letting us use your vacant house as a surveillance site for the drug dealing we suspect across the street?”
This was definitely not the kind of occasion when you’re flattered for just being asked. Really?! Drug dealing significant enough that the police department wants to keep an eye on it through the windows of the house we’re slowing rehabbing? A response originating somewhere from the deepest realm of my spiritual being — first voiced by the likes of Adam, Moses, Naomi, Esther, and most of the biblical prophets — begged to be heard: “You gotta be kiddin’ me!” We’re just trying to make walls straight and floors level and map out a livable configuration for a suitable kitchen. Heck, we don’t even have a bathroom yet! We’re not looking to be part of a sting operation carried out by a swat team.
I didn’t like any of the questions that came to mind. Is this what it means to be a good neighbor? What if the dealers across the street find out about our cooperation with the police? Will there be any windows left unbroken in our house? What about the tires on our vehicles? Will our cats be safe?
A few weeks later, I called the cell phone number the police officer left with me. I said we were willing to help in any way we could. Then we decided to engage in a modest act of biblical subversion. In our barren front yard, the yard facing the alleged drug dealer, we planted a tree, an ornamental plum (Prunus cerasifera). Someday, it will be fifteen feet tall, and even though it will never produce plums, its reddish-purple leaves will be a stunning addition to our beleaguered block.
In another time and place, the prophet Jeremiah was directed by God to remind the Hebrews in exile that God was in Babylon every bit as much as God had been with them in Jerusalem. So Jeremiah told the people: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce . . . Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer. 29:5, 7)
I have no illusions that a tree is going to change the world, much less the drug-dealing that might be going on in the neighborhood. But every time I look at our newly planted specimen, I smile and remain hopeful. Maybe that’s what compelled 16th century reformer Martin Luther to write: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Just wait till they see the organic garden we have planned!
[For previous installments of A House Story go to www.danielplasman.com/blog/ and pull down the CATEGORIES menu and select A House Story]