One of the most terrifying experiences I had as a child happened in the parking lot of a San Antonio McDonald’s. I was in the 7th grade. My family had just finished breakfast and we were leaving for our yearly trip to Six Flags. My sister and I got in the car and a man came up to my dad and started asking him for money. My dad held out a dollar, but the man started following my dad around the car, snarling at him. I didn’t know whether to lock the car door to protect my sister, or to leave it unlocked to allow my dad to hop in. I could just hear my dad saying “Jesus loves you, Man!” over and over again as he circled the car. Eventually a McDonald’s employee came out and shooed the man away and everything was fine. But I wasn’t. I was trembling with fear and obsessed about the incident for a full year.
One of the understated elements of living in a city of 8 million is that the sheer volume of people that we encounter every single day produces more experiences with humanity than the average suburbanite will have in a month or several months. My kids have observed more people in their two years here than I had observed in my whole adolescence, perhaps. They have seen people talking to themselves, they have seen people asking for money, playing music, speaking different languages, caring for strangers, and screaming at each other. They have seen people litter. They have seen people fall asleep after a long day. They have seen famous people, tourists, families that look like ours, and families that don’t. I am pretty sure that they will see some scary things. But something about the urban experience makes it worthwhile. Seeing the depth and breadth of humanity builds both empathy and street smarts. In some miraculous way, we are able to love more and discern better. That is a gift.