Venture Into the Messy Middle


By Hannah Pitner | Twitter:@hannahpitner

I spent a couple of early morning hours standing on the side of the street in a part of town where you might lock your car as you stop at a red light. One word floated in my head as I began the five-minute drive home along a badly paved road towards the corner where you begin to see the landscaped flower beds: Kindness.

There were people outside walking, standing and talking. There was a small Hispanic church with a faded sign (in English) out front that read, “Food pantry and clothing closet open to the community.” At the gas station across the street I heard yelling and saw a man running after a car. An older woman had left her gas cap on the top of her car. He went back to the group of three people sitting on the curb drinking gas station coffee.

My husband had been T-boned at a nearby intersection. It was a stressful start to his first full day at a new teaching job just around the corner. He pulled to the side of the road unsure how they would resolve this. He was afraid the man would be angry and full of blame, but he wasn’t. Then a woman stopped her car and offered to stay and be a witness. She was willing to be inconvenienced to help another person.

In a neighborhood often only known for its crime, I saw kindness. As I stood and observed, I didn’t see people to be afraid of. I saw people who could teach me so much about kindness.

How often do I see people here as only in need of help?

There are people who live on the fringes of our society—ones who went to low-performing schools, work minimum wage jobs or don’t speak English. Those of us who have never lived with these struggles usually only venture in to help.

A couple of years ago I lived in a low income area of my city with a few other people who cared deeply about the community. It was odd to see the pain and violence so close, yet still be spared from it because of my own innate privilege.

One Saturday morning a group of well-meaning church people pulled up into my neighborhood with big trucks and lots of volunteers ready to mow lawns and plant flowers. What they did was very kind and I’m sure my neighbors appreciated it. However, as I walked outside to my car, they just looked at me then kept working. It was so odd to feel like a project, but not a person.

Standing on the side of the street, I wondered: Am I willing to enter into the messiness of life with others? Do I come to serve the needy ready to learn and grow, rather than just to teach?

Maybe we stay on the fringes of our sides of society because we are afraid of the messiness of the middle. Perhaps we are afraid of the disagreeing or feeling uncomfortable.

However when we bravely venture out to the middle, the messy space where all different kinds of people and opinions mix, we find something beautiful and different—something we never could have found in our quiet, homogenous, like-minded spaces. We find that those in need often have more to give us than we could give them.


About Hannah:

I am a passionate reader, writer, traveler and storyteller/hearer. I live with my husband in Memphis, TN, a city that I love deeply for the diversity and culture around every corner. I am currently pursuing my Masters in Spanish Literature while teaching Spanish at a local university. You can find me at