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Elaine Vilorio Headshot

The Brush Strokes of a Painting

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The little things in life astound me. I think the allure of detail is that it allows you to interpret the bigger picture in ways you never would have.

I live in a very stereotypical low-income housing neighborhood. Most of the inhabitants are Hispanic, like my family and I, and African-American. To many, my neighborhood seems like a blot on the face of my mostly suburban town. Neighborhood foreigners hesitate to park their cars on the nearby streets for fear of vandalism. It is said that shady dealings occur behind closed doors when the sun goes down. The police crusade the streets from time to time. Litter makes itself at home in front of each apartment building. Sometimes, at night, I can hear the slurs of a drunk outside my window. This is the picture of a true American slum, so to speak. This is the picture conjured by the minds of many an individual when the name of my street is mentioned.

But my street is more than that. Despite its ill repute, I can't say I would have wanted to grow up anywhere else. Although it is worthwhile to note the bad side of anything (for the sake of instigating progress), it is also noteworthy to view the good side of something (for the sake of preservation) -- a side many people fail to see.

There is something that makes pride swell up inside me when I look around my neighborhood, moving me to the point of tears and reaffirming my faith in human nature. This something is simple, yet precious: community.

Here, a strange, unofficial exchange program has been established. When someone no longer finds use in a certain item, he/she leaves the aforementioned item in the corner of the garbage pick-up area. They leave it there, not for the garbage men to pick up, but for the benefit of their fellow tenants. It is a magical, discreet practice. Do you have a toaster that works, but bought a fancier one for some reason? Just leave it in the corner of the garbage pick-up area. It will be gone the next day. How about the table you just replaced? Although shabby, it still fulfills its purpose. Leave it in the corner; the next day, it will vanish. The garbage men do not take these things, not if they see the items are in good shape. They know of the vanishing corner, too. Sometimes, when you visit a neighbor in your building or a family two buildings down from you, you're surprised and pleased to find they're using that toaster or that table. You don't say anything, however. People are grateful but proud. The cynics say that people leave their items there for the mere convenience of having it off their hands in a simple, quick way. I, however, think that was the initial intention of this practice. As time wore on, I honestly think -- as naïve as it sounds -- that people began doing it more for the benefit of others than for the benefit of themselves.

This is not the only detail that marks the sense of community in my neighborhood. There are the greetings exchanged between people on the street -- people who begin their relationships as strangers and go on to become friends. There is the reverence for the gardens in front of each building, tended by the elderly women of the ground floors. Although there is litter everywhere else, people seem to avoid littering in these gardens because of an unspoken rule. There are the hot days in the summer when the inhabitants of the apartment buildings sit on the stoops and talk about everything and nothing. There are the carpool deals between parents. There are the prayer services for the death of a neighbor or the relatives of a neighbor, whether they live next to you or one block down. These little things are what make up the unmistakable beauty of the microcosm that is my neighborhood.

Because of these things, I am proud to come where I come from. When I leave this neighborhood to fulfill my dreams, I will leave it with a greater appreciation of the little things and a greater love of life. I think that in life, this type of perspective keeps you alive and well. A lot of people take aspects of their life for granted. To be humble, to be conscious of others, to enjoy everything about living, the good and the bad: These are the things every person should aspire to do.