Olathe, Kansas — On Saturday I looked back from my front porch, my walk having been cut short by a soft rain. As you can see, my grass and that of my neighbors is dormant from the drought. I live on a U-shaped street in a series of cul-de-sacs that back up to a small lake. The lake lies just beyond the red wood fence and the van and the house on the other side of the U. On my block are two cars with vanity plates: DTHSTAR and AZUWISH, identifying their families with Star Wars and The Princess Bride, respectively. The house next to ours is for sale following a foreclosure and eviction. There’s a house on the other side of the U that someone just moved into. It had been for sale for a long time, but I never saw a “Sold” sign. A house across the street did sell, and people are moving in. Down the block is a house that is being rebuilt following a fire last winter. It’s a friendly neighborhood, thanks in part to the presence of several evangelical Christian families. The family of a man I used to work with hosted a backyard vacation Bible school for several summers. Another has had garage sales to support mission trips.
As I walk through the neighborhood, often with rosary in hand, folks say “Hi” and encourage me for the weight I’ve lost in the past year. A neighbor who has lived here longer than I have said that she’s never seen the lake this low. The lake is a common area where homeowners and the renters who live in apartments nearby come together. In addition to homeowners like myself, I also see Hispanic families getting exercise together as well as a small group of African Muslim women in hijab and jilbab. The water level has dropped very low lately, making it possible for fathers to walk with their children on the cracked and parched lake bed.
Just before the lake dropped, there was a harmful algae bloom — the first since I’ve live here. With the stench around the lake so strong, I walked instead to a historic and commercial part of town. I walked under a newly raised railroad bridge past craftsman style homes. I made my first visit to Olathe’s Deaf Cultural Center, an interpretive center related to the deaf community around the Kansas State School for the Deaf. I also saw a garden at the National Animal Control Association, which contains a memorial for animal control officers who died in the line of duty as well as a beam from the World Trade Center to memorialize the dead of the September 11th attacks.
Walking, I’m discovering, is a political act that reveals to me a local world more diverse and global that I would have imagined. I see the countless incremental and dramatic changes in the lives of those I live among but mostly do not work with or attend church with. And by walking freely with confidence, I make my own contribution to the diversity and friendliness of this neighborhood.
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