For some reason this Biblical passage dashed through my mind when I saw this card, “When I was a child I spoke as a child I understood as a child I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.” I think that is a key aspect of this card’s message to me today.
Yesterday I strolled the streets of my neighborhood and realized I have become a ghost. I am the ghost of Hell’s Kitchens past. I walked for blocks and saw no one I knew (and the people I did see are not ones I want to know). Half of the people I strolled passed were oblivious to their surroundings with their eyes glued to the screens of their smartphones as they texted or browsed the Internet or did whatever people do now rather than pay attention to what is going on around them. These oblivious wonders tended to be dressed in trendy fashions and were apparently on their way to or departing from some local hip establishment. It sickened me.
They have no knowledge, understanding or interest in the history of the place they choose to call home. My family has lived in that area for generations. They lived and died and laughed and cried there. Their sweat helped keep the docks going and their lives were sacrificed protecting this nation. I am so firmly rooted in the cement and dirt of that neighborhood that I don’t know if I could survive transplantation. And much like the weeds and wild trees that sprout up in the cracks of sidewalks or among abandoned lots, I will endure the trampling and littering of this current crop of transplants.
Having said that, I also realize that no matter how long I manage to stay in my ancestral neighborhood it will never be what I remember as a child. The true community that used to exist there is gone. Most of the elders have died and their descendents have moved away. Our tales are lost or mutated for someone else’s fictional tales about gangsters and criminal behavior. I may be nostalgic for those old days but I do not romanticize them. My neighborhood was rough, dirty, occasionally dangerous and bleak but I loved it. I still yearn for it with every fiber of my being but those days are gone forever.
That doesn’t mean their influences are gone from my life. That neighborhood, that time and those people helped form me and make me who I am today. As long as I carry those memories, they live. As long as I honor those people and that place, their essence lingers in the ether. I just hope they are proud of who I am and what I’ve achieved in my live. Our ghosts will still haunt the streets even if those currently residing there are oblivious to them. But for me, right now, what I need to do to is honor their memories, keep their spirits alive but not get lost in the bitterness and anger that can occasionally overtake me when I roam these sidewalks. I need to focus on the good and not get lost in the bad.