I walked into the dilapidated low-income apartment complex. I found myself shivering but it was not because of the cold, it was because of the eerie feel inside of the dark and dirty walls of the apartment building as I walked in.
On the floor of the shared hallway lay garbage several inches thick. Fast food wrappers, plastic bags and other debris likely left from the homeless population that would take shelter inside these hallways after dark. It was supposed to be a locked building but in my seven years of public health nursing, I have never once seen these doors locked.
I shrugged myself and my nursing equipment away from the walls, which were covered in years worth of dirt and filth, as we drug ourselves up the narrow steps. Halfway up the first flight of stairs my interpreter and I paused to take in a single child-sized red streaked handprint, bright against the dingy wall. I watched my interpreter make the sign of the cross over his chest and we continued to walk, while hoping and praying that the print was made of paint and not blood. I shuddered to think of what these walls had seen in their many years.
After slowly making our way up to the third floor of the rickety, crooked staircase, with a handrail so broken and dirty that I knew it was better for me not to touch it, we finally reached my client's apartment. We knocked but there was no answer. We stood and waited, knocking at intervals. I felt myself imagining what it would be like to live in this foul space and my heart quivered, feeling emotional and helpless with the knowledge that in the richest country in the world, some people still live in absolute squalor.
While we waited, my eyes swung over to the next-door over. The filthy door was so rickety on its frame that it barely shut. Landlords were known to turn a blind eye to such things in this part of town. I shivered to think of the lack of safety for the family inside in this neighborhood frequented by police sirens and gunshots after dark. This door had not seen paint in many years and was covered in something sticky and brown. What caught my eye, however, was the single drawing of a childlike, simple castle. At the bottom of the single triangle of a castle was a word carefully pressed into the paper in pink crayon- hope. I do not know if Hope was the name of the child who drew the picture, the name of the princess standing next to the castle or a simple reminder to keep striving.
I paused in the bleak surroundings, with tears stinging my eyes. In the middle of this darkness, I found light and, indeed, hope- in the torn paper drawing tacked on a dilapidated door by a child.
I couldn't help but think that if a child that lives in these circumstances, circumstances as bleak as any I have ever seen in America, surely I-- with my many blessings-- could seek hope, as well.
I could find my castle inside of a shack. Find my light inside of the darkness. Find hope where there was not any before.
That castle was a message for me.
No matter your present circumstances.