Watching the Ferguson 4th of July parade this year as we always do I heard a story about a woman who invited non-Ferguson friends to stop by her home. The friends were shocked: No, thank you! Not THERE where that serial killer lived and killed all those women!
For at least three weeks we read and heard daily reminders: "Ferguson man . . ." "Ferguson Neighborhood . . ." We weren't just neighbors gathering for our annual ice cream social; we were "Regrouping in Wake of Suspected Killer's Arrest." We joke about outside perceptions of our community, but it's not really all that funny.
Suspected killer Maury Travis lived just around the corner from my house in Ferguson Hills. I did not know Mr. Travis, but those who did remember him as a polite, pleasant man who took care of his yard. Before he was arrested for the brutal murders of up to seventeen women, his neighbors saw nothing inconsistent with the rest of their experience as residents of Ferguson Hills.
Their experience and mine was almost idyllic for a neighborhood in this day and age, a throwback to the 1950s, when the houses were built. People cut their grass, cultivate flowers, and chat over backyard fences. The sidewalk may at any given time sport a parade of strollers and tricycles, a dog on a leash or an elderly couple holding hands.
We've taken care of each other's children, gotten the mail when our neighbors were out of town, checked on each other after storms, repaired homes together, been there to share troubles, celebrated weddings, enjoyed pot luck dinners and Halloween trick-or-treating, and brought food to families when our friends have died.
We've been home to engineers, factory workers, retailers, school administrators, truckers, lawyers, police officers, editors, child care workers, realtors, contractors, at least one general, a mayor, a school board member, a nationally recognized theologian, and many, many moms, dads and grandparents.
We are set apart, however, not by our occupations or the prestige of those we've nurtured, but by our humanity the care we take to simply be neighbors to one another. I live in this place secure in the knowledge that if I am in need, someone will help me. An even greater blessing is the knowledge that here I can make a difference in the smallest ways of being kind. It is a rare and beautiful thing to live in a place like this. I would not trade it for some other place even now, with the wounds of the Maury Travis tragedy still raw in our lives.
Do we feel more vulnerable to crime now? No, a serial killer can live anywhere. Do we feel damaged as a community? Yes, indeed, but not in the way that makes people run from neighborhoods. It's not guilt, either, for failing to protect the murdered, though we've searched our souls for a way we might have prevented this. Rather, the hurt that strikes so deeply is rooted in the very humanity we share: how, we ask, could such obscene acts occur within our very midst? Poor, tormented women being tortured RIGHT HERE and none of us knew to intervene on their behalf.
We pray for those women and all who may be like them. We pray for the mother and sister of a murderer. We pray for the vulnerable, those caught in the tangle, and even those with twisted minds. We are moved by the knowledge that real evil does exist, up close and personal.
We do not gather to "regroup" but to be again in the presence of friends when we most need to be together and to remind each other of our caring. To share our sorrow that such a horror could be among us. To remind ourselves again of goodness.
A metaphor, perhaps, this little neighborhood: People live together all over the world all the time. We know each other in small moments of conversation and short pauses for kindness. In a world that houses shocking violence, devastating natural disasters, children shrinking in terror from parents, and even more, it is the sharing of our common humanity that saves us.
These are lessons from my neighborhood.
Carla Fletcher is a 35-year resident of Ferguson Hills, and practices law in Ferguson with special interests in real estate and church law.