People don’t just live in Saint Louis. They relate to it. They bond with it. They have a familial connection with the town. It’s almost like a brother or sister. Do residents like everything about their fair city? No way. Do you like everything about your siblings?
You can find criticism about The STL all over The 314. But as you may be aware, it’s perfectly acceptable for a brother to talk bad about their brother. It’s okay for a sister to gripe about her sister. That’s in house stuff. It’s part of the relationship. But if you aren’t in the family–if you don’t live in Saint Louis and never have–well, you’d better stay out of it.
I did not grow up in Saint Louis, but I always identified with my state’s largest metro area. We went there sometimes. From a young age I was fascinated with the town where 70, 64, 44, and 55 converge. I had never seen highways so wide and buildings so tall. The world famous Arch captured my imagination. The Saint Louis Cardinals were a fixture in my household. The MIssissippi River was mysterious and wild and powerful.
I don’t live in Saint Louis presently, either. My calling (I’m a student pastor) took me to Texas, where bravado is in no short supply. Don’t Mess With Texas is a motto easy to spot on roadside signs, warning against littering or other forms of rebellion against the Great Republic. As silly as it sounds, the tagline resonates. I suppose many folks feel this way about their home.
For me, Saint Louis has always been my home, regardless of where I’ve lived. And I feel the same way about my city as Texans feel about their state–
Don’t mess with it.
Lately, The Gateway City has received a lot of negative press. Chiefly, the Michael Brown case garnered national attention. Don’t get me wrong–it was an avoidable tragedy for all involved. That’s not my point. The point is, the news and opinion crews came and went. The out-of-state protestors came, made a bunch of noise, and then left. The people who remain are doing the same stuff they were before it all started.
Living side by side.
Trying to get along.
Working hard for their families.
Looking for peace in a city famous for its division.
Saint Louis regularly tops the list of Most Dangerous Cities. Never mind that these stats can be skewed nearly any way you wish. I can tell you from first hand experience that I’ve never feared for my life in Saint Louis. I can also tell you that there have been several murders in my affluent western suburb of Katy, Texas since I moved here three and a half years ago. A dead body was found just down the street from my house a little while back.
People kill people everywhere, it seems. Sadly so.
What really bothers most Saint Louisans, I think, is this feeling deep down that there is so much good happening in the area that people never hear about. Like in a lot of places, the negative gets noticed and the good goes unidentified.
A couple months back I was visiting Saint Louis. I was right downtown. What used to be bustling middle class neighborhoods are now urban wastelands, neglected and ignored by people fleeing westward for perceived safety and comfort.. My best friend lives down there, one of a growing group re-entering the neighborhood, refugees from a constant battle with the Joneses in the suburbs.
There’s a garden in an abandoned lot, meant for the community. Down on the corner a business owner has opened up her shop for mentoring the city’s troubled youth. While I was there it was discovered that a pipe was leaking and flooding part of her shop. Another neighbor was dispatched to help fix the problem. On the walk back to my buddy’s house, we passed some folks seated on the porch. My friend smiled and waved and spoke. I later learned he had smiled and waved at people he’s quite certain had broken into his car.
Make your jokes about Saint Louis all you want. There’s beauty there. It rarely makes the news and it doesn’t inspire many Top 10 lists, but the city is as good and kind and forgiving and helpful and diverse and inspiring as it is imperfect. If you don’t believe me, just ask the people who live there.
They’d be happy to tell you the whole truth about their city.