Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thinking about my new apartment complex

This past weekend we moved into a new apartment complex closer to downtown Dallas. On Sunday we went for a swim in the pool, and it was pretty shocking to realize just how different of a demographic we are now living with.

In our old complex, we were surrounded by minorities, mostly Hispanic, some black. Isaac met the only other white people we ever saw there at the pool a few weeks before we left, and they were just like the guys he grew up around in a working class neighborhood in Bristol, England. High school drop-outs, single parents, no ambition, language filled with profanity. Most of the time when I met our neighbors I could speak to the kids but the parents couldn't speak English.

There's a part of me that enjoys that atmosphere. I wish I could communicate more because I believe in being involved in your community. I do enjoy being with immigrants and the working class side of society, the same way I enjoyed the people I met when I rode the bus. We liked chuckling at the antics of the little Hispanic kids as they paddled around the pool at our old complex.

By the end of our moving day this past weekend we'd already commented that every other tenant any of us had run across that day was young (perhaps younger than us), trendy, and white. We have moved right next to a yuppie bar scene area and we knew this was probably who we'd be living around, but the difference was shocking. Going swimming was extremely shocking. The pool was nearly full, but not of parents and kids playing. They were young, mostly very fit, very tanned, and drinking. There was a handful of young couples who would drift from one side of the pool to another, canoodling openly the whole time. Every girl was in a bikini (I grew up in a Muslim country, ya'll, bikinis still shock me after all these years). Nearly everyone had alcohol, and several guys were standing in the water with a beer can in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The girl across the pool sunbathing was reading Dan Brown, the guy next to her was reading D Magazine (a magazine geared towards the Dallas trendy crowd), and on the other side a guy read Maxim magazine.

Isaac and his little sister swam around a little, felt the disapproval of everyone who was there to sunbathe and drink instead of swim, and decided they'd had enough pretty quickly. Isaac and I commented that that exact demographic is the group of people in the US that we feel the least comfortable with. It's odd because technically it's our own demographic. Young, urban professionals.

It's a callback to my years as a kid when we'd come "home" to the US and I'd go to public school and a local church and suddenly be dropped into this suburban white teen world that I had nothing in common with. I felt alone and threatened. The people in this complex are those same types of kids, grown up. I still, in some ways, feel I have nothing in common with them. Most of them are uninterested in debating politics, theology, or sociology, most of them probably only travel to resorts and beach towns, and I couldn't go out drinking now even if I wanted to. Or dating, for that matter. ;)

After I finished undergrad I realized that my sheltered childhood left me unable to relate to your average American, and partly for that reason I took a job in the office of the catering business I worked for in college. I was suddenly surrounded by mostly young, trendy, beautiful, and white women that were living up their post-college life by climbing the business ladder, dating and sleeping around, and partying around Chicago. I did, indeed, feel I had nothing in common with them and enjoyed hanging out with the Hispanic warehouse and chef team more than the girls in the office.

I was there for a few years, though, and over a few years those girls became my friends, and I learned some things. I learned that though they could identify that I was different from them (whether by my faith or by growing up overseas), they really didn't care. The differences didn't make them avoid me, it just meant it took longer to build common ground to grow a friendship. I didn't have to try to fit in or be like them (that was hopeless), I could simply be comfortable being different and be okay with them living the big-city-party lifestyle they were living. I could listen to tales of parties and boyfriends and hip new restaurants. In the end, they are my friends, and to my surprise, we keep in touch.

It's the same way with this apartment complex. I don't want to feel threatened or defensive just because these people are different, or because they are extremely secular in comparison to my very religious background. Yes, it means we are different. Finding common ground may not be easy... but you know... it's the same as when you go overseas. There's little common ground, and that's okay. You're the foreigner, and that's okay.

This party crowd saddens me sometimes because I see their lives as being very empty. What are they living for that will still be worth living for in 20 years? Sometimes the partying seems to be the pursuit of something, anything, to mask and distract from the fact that they don't know what they're living for.

So ... these people are to me, sheep without a shepherd. Not party people I will judge and scorn. People to love. Even if they, like my friends in Chicago, are entirely uninterested in all things spiritual at this point in their lives.


Jaimie said...

Cool. Just a different kind of people -- but still people.

s-p said...

I completely identify with your post. My "demographic" is the least comfortable group for me to hang out with. It has always been that way for me no matter what age I was. I can intellectually say "they are all people" and sheep without a shepherd etc., but sometimes its just a lot more work to peel back the narcissism, facades, plastic and cynicism toward life with some people. It's spiritually exhausting.