Border line

Border line

Editor’s note: Each Thursday, we feature a throwback piece from Topology’s predecessor, catapult magazine. In this essay from 2011, Amy Hetletvedt considers community, spaces, and what divides them. 

“Why do even the trees seem different when you drive across that line?”

This was the question my father asked me soon after we moved to Detroit eight years ago. “The Line” he was referring to is Mack Avenue, the street that forms the border between Grosse Pointe and Detroit. It’s a valid observation. There is a sense of entering Pleasantville upon crossing the border into Grosse Pointe. Bird songs are louder, trees leafier and more vibrant. People ride by on bicycles with bells and baskets. Kids walk down the street with baseball bats slung over their shoulders. Funny thing is, the bats are not being carried in defense of a feral dog attack (as is the case in our neck of the woods); the kids are actually walking to Little League practice.

How did we get to the place where on one side of the line you can rely on the police coming when you call and on the other side you can’t? How did we get to the place where on one side of the line a house is worth $200,000 and on the other side the same house is worth $20,000? How did we get to the place where on one side of the line a child goes to the best performing school system in the state and on the other side the worst?

In pondering these questions, I was reminded of a fourteenth-century series of frescoes executed by Ambrogio Lorenzetti entitled “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government.” The difference between happy people dancing and playing tambourines in the streets and violence and destruction, he asserts didactically, is government. I like the concept, and would not hesitate to agree that the health and effectiveness of the governmental structures of these two cities has a lot to do with it. But it seems to me that, at least in this case, there is more to the story. I can’t unravel it, but it’s all tangled up with racism and anger and envy and greed and contempt. And these flow freely across both sides of the line.

There was a period of time a few years ago when my husband and I began to believe that the grass was in fact greener across the line. We craved the sense of order, the stability, the lack of gunfire in the night. We toured countless houses, ready to buy in. But it wasn’t what the Lord had in mind for us. One of the reasons I think that He still has us in Detroit is to keep this imperfection and brokenness before us; to remind us that we can do nothing right without Him (Romans 3:12) and that no place, regardless of the effectiveness of its government, is going to be perfect this side of heaven.