Thursday, April 14, 2016
A FEW QUICK LESSONS FROM A SMALL TOWN BOY IN THE BIG CITY
Last week, I visited New York City for only the second time and I could never rid myself of the perception that I was somehow a latter-day Dennis Weaver playing a bumpkin-esque Deputy McCloud navigating a land that might as well be foreign.
The buildings seem taller than some of our western mountains.
The favored hue for automobiles seems to be yellow.
Park trails look somewhat like sidewalks and the songs we hear are not from meadowlarks.
And the trains look far different than the freights that rumbled through my boyhood town.
Food is plentiful – but very expensive, unless you know where to look.
It is crowded and noisy and busy and, at first, confusing. But the music and the rhythm and the change of pace is somehow good and refreshing.
There may be more culture in any four-square-block area of Manhattan than in any other so-sized spot anywhere else on the globe.
Art is on display for all to behold. Sometimes, just like riding along the road with a writer, you find yourself standing elbow-to-elbow with a master in his studio.
Bridges invite you to cross.
Corner cafes invite you in for a bite. Memory if the pastrami here at 52nd and 6th still causes me to salivate.
Central Park in spring rivals the almond orchards in Butte County (CA) of my youth and I can’t imagine Paris being much more beautiful. Ask me again once I’ve been there.
Coney Island was nearly empty of people – the rides don’t fire up for a few more weeks.
And I was surprised when I snapped a picture Under the Boardwalk, that this is all I got…
The subways are not the cleanest places on earth, but they are efficient and run on time.
Note: the best way to get from point A to point Q is to toss away the cell phone with its NYC Transit App and simply stand on the platform with a quizzical look on your face. In under a minute one or more gracious citizens will ask “Where ya goin’?” and offer spot on advice as to how to get there: “Ya take the C line to 54th, get off and catch the L across town two stops. Your restaurant’ll be a five minute walk…”
New York City presents big lessons to folks from small towns like me. The biggest is at “Ground Zero,” the monument for those who perished on September 11th in 2001. Two huge reflecting ponds no lay in the footprints of the original towers. Into each of the 176-foot long sides is engraved the names of the nearly 3,000 people who perished that day.
Most impressive was that fully one and a half sides eight sides of the pools was used to honor the first responders who rushed in while everyone else was rushing out.
In place of the Twin Towers is a new structure that, dominating lower Manhattan, inspires the visitor to look heavenward.
My thoughts upon visiting this place were two. One: I had many, many difficult days over my career as a teacher and school principal – one was explaining to parents on 9/11 that no, we weren’t going to close schools in light of the attack. “If we did,” I improvised, “we’d be letting the bad guys win.” But that difficult day for me didn’t hold a candle to the day the men from the ladder company directly across the street experienced. Few survived.
And two: When looking at the memorial grounds we are filled with a range of silent emotions. If dominant in those is anger coupled with a need to “get even” with those who flew the planes into the towers – even though it is a very palpable and realistic thing to feel – if we allow that emotion to command our behavior, we will have missed the bigger lessons: the ones about might and restraint; about power and diplomacy; and about peace and its necessary coupling with understanding in order to be realized.
I harbor no regrets if the reader does not share this final conclusion.
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