Kyak off a Hunting Island, S.C. beach that doesn't exist any more.
Strange days, these. For some reason, the yellow smog doesn't hang as heavy upon this city this summer. Not yet, anyway. As I push the stroller down the buckled sidewalks, I feel like I'm more focused on the cracks and pits in the sidewalk than on what's going on around me. I don't see quite like I used to and I wonder if I've entered the ranks of the voluntarily blind.
I saw a woman in a headscarf making her way past a row of mouldering houses on her way to a neighborhood supermarket known for having a selection of Halal meat. She swung an empty Whole Foods bag as she walked. Pecking her way down the street. First on the sidewalk and then, in the gutter as the terrain warranted. I wondered at the similarity of our daily lives: See him off. Make the breakfast. Change the diapers. Wash the dishes. Wait for his return. Amen.
I followed her not because I was interested, but because I didn't want to manhandle the 50-plus pounds in the stroller up the steep and broken grade going another way would have dictated. I've gone lazy. And I can't help but compare the me of the present to the me of the past who would have followed with greedy and journalistic eyes longing for a glimpse of the strange color or even suffering I thought lent authenticity to my neighborhood, my companions, my life.
Like Aslan on the table of the White Witch, my idealism has been sacrificed, transmogrified, and reborn. I see the real. The truth will set you free, but it will kill you first.
I remember somewhat fondly, actually, the relish with which I absorbed the grit of this neighborhood. I saw the drugs, the prostitutes and the cops they attracted. Strangely, it's a much quieter neighborhood now and I wonder if all the action has just been pressed down the street, or if the economy has effected the street commerce. I almost think it's the latter. The hos and pimps had to get real jobs. They really needed the benefits.
Even the 100-year-old beauties of my neighborhood have gone shabby with the sub-prime crisis. The Jemison house needs to be painted in the most desperate way. And it breaks my heart. Even in my parent's neighborhood, there is a house with boarded-up windows. It's something marvelously out-of-place there, almost like a 1954 Packard in the driveway or something. You know the Packard? A great steel megalith of a car with a frowning grill looking as if it has just eaten a monstrous sausage and is experiencing the most vile dyspepsia.
I liked being a tourist of suffering. I liked being able to take it all back up over the mountain for dinner. I liked being "among them, but not of them." But these days, I confess, I feel the weight of the suffering everywhere. It seems to pour down the drainpipes off the roofs of the world and trickle maliciously into the attics of every house in the city. Housewives feel it drip on their faces as they pour the coffee. Businessmen scan the skies as they drive to work. Uh oh. Here it comes. There isn't a home here that hasn't suffered. Rain falls on the just and the unjust, and these days, I'm not so sure that money provides any sort of flood insurance from the onslaught of suffering. It drones through the evenings like a twin engine Cessna through a cloudless summer sky. (A sound that to me, means lonely.)
Last night, I felt again the whisper of the still, small voice saying "peace, peace" when there is no peace. It was as if the peace was being birthed. It wasn't so much a restatement of what existed as a creating of what was not. It moved, making a way in the wilderness. Tying up all the loose ends and spreading a table for me in the presence of my enemies. (And Tom Bombadil. Why not?) My grandmother came to me in a dream with rolled-up jeans and an enamel bowl full of blackberries. Everything, she said, is so beautiful here.
Oh Come, Oh Come, Immanuel.
And ransom Captive Israel.
Who mourns in lonely exile here.
Until the Son of God appear.
Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.