Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Memory from The East Village: My Shock and Awe

On March 19, 2008, New York City’s East Village neighborhood is cool, gray and wet as light rain dampens the aesthetic sprit of what is usually one of Manhattan’s most colorful and lively neighborhoods, a neighborhood filled with memories for so many.

The sky is thick, the view limited, obscured by the clouds and mist, the empire state building is no where in sight, the sidewalks sparse, as few brave the weather, only venturing to go from one boutique or thrift shop to a sushi bar or perhaps a deli for a newspaper or magazine.

On Avenue C at Eleventh Street, backhoes, asphalt cutters and men with red flags directing traffic sends muffled noises into apartments and co-ops, as water pipes, power sources or other infrastructure gets repaired.

A grocery store is filled with shoppers some speaking Spanish, a few notice the Turkey Hill Ice Cream is on sale for $2.99 a gallon while others see that WIC covers Peter Pan Peanut Butter.

There’s an old man, one of several standing who bags your groceries, he keeps a pile of coins in the corner hoping customers leave a nickel, dime or perhaps a quarter or more.

Later, a walk is taken, along the way, the phone rings, a friend is having some issues with her boss, she feels betrayed, but advice is given, she hangs up, the walk continues.

On a nearby schoolyard, two young men brave the mist, toss a ball to each other, they laugh and carry a conversation, a woman with a stroller pushes quickly past, she pays them no mind.

Black smoke billows from the chimney of a brown stained building, about 6 stories high, it rises straight into the sky, a slight breeze sends it west.

A yellow school bus, its driver wears a white shirt, children are sitting two to a seat, headed home after a day of learning, playing, being together perhaps engaging in mischief..

A woman with plastic shopping bags hanging from her pockets walks down Avenue B, around 5 dogs on a leash, a small erudite looking dachsund leads, the human lumbers along pulled by her canine team, she smiles as she passes.

On Avenue A, one thin young man, thick black hair wears a blue sweater, he’s also braving the mist and sits outside at a café on 9th street under a canopy, the other tables empty, he reads a book, sips coffee from a white china cup on a saucer with green trim

Further west, on First Avenue at 10th Street, a young woman with blond hair, blue highlights around its edges, searches in an oversized black purse, finally, she finds that cigarette and struggles to light it. Her red and black tweed skirt with combat boots underneath, trigger memories of a neighborhood that celebrated individuality, a time in the late 1980’s, when a young man from Alabama, said hello to New York for the first time.

But, that particular memory is overshadowed by another, a more recent memory that has led to a shared painful reality, a reality that some say has divided and fatigued an entire nation, a reality most of us witness from the comfort of our homes and communities, a reality that is nightmarish, a shared but awful truth of where we the people find ourselves today.

In the five long years since the first bombs landed in Baghdad, this nation has seen countless sacrifices that most of us learn about through photographs and stories and occasional movies. But what most of us see, hear and read only begins to touch the deeper truths, truths that are too painful and awful to communicate by words, images or anything beyond experience itself.

And, as time continues to pass in neighborhoods and homes across the nation, as images of fireballs and thundering explosions fade yet another year away into our collective memory, millions still ask the question, was it all worth it.

Still, melancholic observations from New York don’t when compare to the memories and tears of a Mother in Indiana, a wife in Detroit or a Father in Mississippi who deals with the daily reality that their son, daughter or husband will not be coming home to walk the dog, go to the grocery store, play ball with a friend, go to school or push the baby in a stroller down the street?

There is a sense of collective sadness, helplessness and outrage in America today and it really began to burn itself into our conscience during news reports of military operations called shock and awe. But, are we still in shock over the bloodbath that has taken so many from us and from the Iraqi’s themselves?

Or, are we in awe of the memory that we allowed leaders and the nation itself to be misled into the belief that all of this was somehow, absolutely necessary?

Meanwhile in New York City’s East Village, the raindrops continue their long descent from the sky.

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