Wednesday, July 18, 2012

neighborhood history

In the early morning light, before the sun has risen, four or five squirrels skitter and leap in the silhouette of the Japanese maple in front of Mike and Doreen's house. Each pauses at the outermost limit of one branch or another to nibble on the most tender shoots. Their effect within the tree is to create small, site- specific movements that suggest puffs of wind. But there is no wind in this thick, moist morning. They are the wind and I hope they are getting enough to eat as each hot day piles onto the one preceding it.

Yesterday, after the sun had gone down, Joe was out walking Samson, his bulldog, and I ambled across the street to chat. The macadam was still hot beneath my bare feet. Joe is trying to get his bearings after having recently retired, but, although I like to offer him a sounding board in that regard, the reason I walked over was to ask him, since he is a Christian of some quiet ardor, what he thought about the Vatican's priest-sexual-abuse problems. I wasn't looking for a whine festival, but rather wanted to check out my own sometimes fiery reactions with someone who knew something about the Christian world... a reality check of sorts. My enthusiasms sometimes get the better of me and I like to double-check.

With his pure white, neatly-kept hair and his smile that seems to grab his face like a nervous tic, Joe told me that he had been brought up Catholic but now was an evangelical Christian. He really couldn't understand or approve of the shape of the Catholic hierarchy and was now content to have a direct connection to the God that both Catholics and evangelical Christians claim to revere. There were no longer any middle men and the God of love was on his front burner. This was the God that Jesus had referred to over and over again and Joe seemed to have found a milieu in which to be with others who agreed with the premise. Somehow, Joe said of the priests who had despoiled little boys and girls, we have to learn to forgive them ... to forgive them AND do what needed to be done, i.e., bring them to court or otherwise put up barriers against further depredations.

Mildly, without wishing to rebut or debate Joe's point of view, I suggested that I was more inclined to forgive those who admitted their culpability and responsibility. To do otherwise was to provide a bolt-hole for those in power ... relying on the forgetfulness and decency of others as a means of evading responsibility. Joe conceded the point, but reiterated his sense that forgiveness was not for 'them' but rather for 'us' -- for our own need to heal and be whole. And he reiterated his view that forgiveness was necessary TOGETHER WITH a willingness to do what was imperative as a means of halting further corruption.

Samson was whimpering in the dusk. It was hot still, although the sun had gone down, and Samson is an indoor dog. I mentioned this to Joe and he took a moment out of our conversation to let Samson into the house where it was cooler. Then he came back, but that small hiatus had broken our conversational thread and we moved on to other things.

While we were talking, Mike pulled up in front of his house next to Joe's. "I heard you retired," Mike said amiably after he got out of the car and walked over to where Joe and I were chatting. "Congratulations! I'm next." "Not for a long time," Joe responded as if it were something to hope. Mike, who travels 90 miles each way to his defense-contractor job outside Boston, stayed a bit and then went home.

Across the street Sigrid (I think that's her name) strolled along behind her son Ferdinand who is now big enough to be riding a small bicycle with training wheels. The child, with a head full of pure blond and long hair, zoomed ahead of his mom, who let him roam, but had a close eye on him. "We've missed you," Sigrid called out to me. I have skipped a couple of Saturdays on the peace picket line, partly due to the heat and partly because I have gotten involved in some writing project. "We," that earthy-crunchy word that allows the speaker to remain carefully uninvolved while asserting involvement. I told her the truth, which was that the heat really got to me. "Well, maybe we'll see you when the weather cools down," she said with a veiled reproof cum assertiveness.

Joe told me that Toby, who lives in the other house that abuts Joe's property, had checked himself into a hospital in an effort to dry out. Toby is an alcoholic and once lived with a woman around the corner, Bernadette, who threw him out after he passed out while smoking and burned much of her house down. Toby was making an effort, Joe said, trying to sober up. But when he had finished hospital treatment and sought shelter in some long-term shelter for addicts, the beds were all filled and there was no room for him. When he returned to the house next to Joe's -- a place where he has lived for years under a verbal agreement with owner and Korean war vet Herschel -- he had been locked out. Gloria, a neighbor from down the block who had 'taken care' of Herschel before getting him into an old-age home and installing a relative in his space, had decided that Toby deserved to go. With Herschel, who could easily have afforded to have a nurse visit him at home, carefully disposed of, Gloria seemed to be asserting her rights to Herschel's house. It was an unkind situation: Toby homeless, Herschel trusting the person who had 'taken care' of him, no written contract apparently ... and Gloria moving up on the ownership list.

Without speaking of it, Joe and I had to admit that we did not have what it took to get involved, to step forward on Toby's behalf. Some die that others may live ... and yet it rankled. I think we both wished we had the energy and understanding to come to Toby's defense, although sobriety is an iffy matter at best, but we didn't or couldn't or wouldn't. We felt complicit, somehow, and the responsibility weighed on both of us, a couple of aging dudes whose aches and pains and own lives were about the best we could manage.

Standing on the still-warm macadam, I felt for a fleeting moment the history of my neighborhood. Not really a complete history, but a history, nonetheless ... flowing, as it seemed, from a variety of yesterdays towards a variety of tomorrows. It was like a puff of wind on a windless day ... coming and going and coming again and going again... flowing through us, sort of, and yet not through us ... Joe and Mike and Sigrid and Ferdinand and Toby and Bernadette and Herschel and Adam were it ...

A puff of unremarkable wind.

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