St. Louis University students and Sister Regina, wearing a sweatshirt saying “Never underestimate an
old woman who graduated from St. Louis University.”

By Sister Regina Siegfried, ASC

My St. Louis neighborhood block held its annual alley cleanup on Earth Day weekend, a fitting time to care for our small plot on the planet. Before we began, I stood on the sidewalk talking to my African-American neighbor.

A guy on a bike sped by and yelled an ugly, racial epithet, loudly enough to be unmistakable. For good measure, the bicyclist admonished my neighbor to “find your own country.”

While I was aghast, shocked, and dismayed at this blatantly racist remark, my neighbor shrugged it off, as he said, “that guy’s ignorant.” I, however, hope my good, generous and selfless neighbor hasn’t heard many other similar slurs. My discomfort rose more from respect for my neighbor than from sharing any white privilege with Bike Guy.

After a quick back-yard breakfast that gave my neighborhood and volunteer crew time to chat and get acquainted, we literally dug into the alley cleanup, pulling, sweeping, raking, and dumping yard waste.
The volunteers were neighbors who live on the block, some of their friends, and a crew of 15 Saint Louis University students participating in the school’s “Showers of Service” program. They even had tee shirts to prove it.
The grimy work paled in comparison with the camaraderie and fun we had. Neighbors got to know each other better; students asked us what it’s like living on an urban residential block. We laughed, got dirty, and shared an unspoken respect for Earth as we did our small part to care for our common home.
The guy on the bike slipped from my awareness in the presence of these happy, spirited, and good- natured volunteers. Later in the day, his ugly presence rode back into my consciousness.

I realized that the people with whom I had spent the morning had dulled his nasty comment; their joy far outweighed his meanness.

I know Earth is full of more decent people than its other more negative inhabitants. I pray that Bike Guy’s spirit is nudged toward more openness by the Spirit of inclusivity.

I pray that my neighbors and the Saint Louis University students continue to grow in the Spirit who urges us to serve the dear neighbor.

Planet Earth deserves an abundance of good people willing to live beyond their lesser natures.