My 100th Post: On Belonging Somewhere
I’ve felt like a fish out of water most of my life.
If you’ve read and studied all my blogs (they’ll be a pop quiz later) you know that I’ve always identified with the counter culture tribe ever since that circus came to town in the mid 60s. And even now, as I’m approaching MY mid 60s, I still do! You could say I sort of ran away with the circus. And one reason I did is because they welcomed me with open arms, where up to then all the other groups (the jocks; the greasers; the Harvard and Yale bound) were all private clubs. Hippiedom was truly inclusive.
But the main culture absorbed the counter culture, and the waters I had been happily swimming in dried up by the mid 70s. This has translated into a geographical conundrum for me.
In hippie times, we would cue each other in to which pockets to seek out when visiting other cities. But soon, as hair and other attributes lost their meaning, so did the places we’d settle. What had been a warm enclave at one time soon grew into just another cold, strange part of town.
Here in the city, I followed my generation on its migratory path from the East Village to the Upper West Side, and later, to Park Slope, Brooklyn. Many went further upstate to New Paltz or Woodstock, or else out west.
And the hippie Diaspora became assimilated into the society at large. So to identify a place where I could be with like-minded people became more and more difficult.
Today, I live with Shelley in a lovely but (for us) odd part of town. Clinton Hill and Fort Greene are both among the oldest middle class African American communities in the country. When we arrived eight years ago, the area was 75-80% black. Today, it’s more like 65-70%. Our building is made up of groups of college kids who go to nearby Pratt U., plus some young professional couples who are starting to raise families and will soon expand out of here.
We’ve been in this building almost a decade and we barely know our neighbors, who come and go like flowers. I often walk these streets and wonder: What the hell are we doing here?
I got a partial answer last Sunday, when I caught the NYC Marathon for the first time. It passes by half a block from our apartment, but — wouldn’t you know it – I’d always preferred to sleep in on a Sunday morning. This year however, aided by the coincidental demise of daylight savings time, I made myself get up early enough to go down and see it for myself.
I love events like these that turn the city into a small town, one in which we all belong. On the corner is a black Pentecostal church, and their choir was out in full force on the front steps, belting out rousing spirituals to cheer the runners on. What a spectacle! Hundreds and hundreds of us shouting our heads off and jumping up and down on the shore for the river of sheer human vitality whooshing by. New York in all its virility and exuberance! You don’t have to win this race — just to run it earns our great respect and admiration. If we could but cheer each other on the same way in our lives come Monday morning!
But I still yearn for a place, a physical community of people who truly recognize and appreciate each other more than once a year, like some of us got to experience back in the day. A place where I am valued and can feel like a part of something vital and important and bigger and more meaningful than just me. That would be a true home.
With the current trend towards age apartheid, I can picture Shelley and I ending up one day in some other kind of ‘home”, some gray ghetto that inevitably morphs into another one of God’s waiting rooms.
In the meantime, we both yearn for green pastures. “I feel alive when I see greenery out my window,” she said today. Here in downtown Brooklyn on a Saturday afternoon, where there’s nothing that grows on Flatbush Avenue around Atlantic, I’m completely surrounded by traffic, cement, and shoppers prowling for bargains. And something inside my animal body wants to scream or start running till I’m too far away to ever make my way back.
I’ve made the best of this sense of alienation, as many of us have. But once you’ve tasted paradise, even for a moment, you can never be quite the same.
And my sense is that I am not the only one on this quest, and that even this great electronic Net that’s supposed to connect (or has it ensnared?) us doesn’t satisfy that primal need for a physical tribe. I suspect, therefore, that those down there in Zuccotti Park living and eating and taking a stand for something together day after day, are satisfying that need right now for themselves. And that perhaps some of them have also gotten that taste, that glimpse of what’s possible when people join to pull together in the same direction. They want to stay the winter? Freezing together, along with all the opposition they’re getting, will only condense that experience for them. They too will never be quite the same.
And yes, this is my 100th post.
One reason I write this blog at all is this yearning to belong; to touch and be touched back; to know and be known.
I still yearn to reach you, to have you get to know me completely. And have me get to hear back from you to complete the loop. It means so much that you read me every week or whenever you do. (By now you should be able to read me like a book!) This life is lonely at times, no? And it’s lonely but also enriching writing at midnight and into the dawn, awake when most aren’t, trying to keep my eyes open long enough, and open wide enough, to see through everything. Thank you for reading me and trying to open your eyes yourself.
I’m sure that by my 200th post we’ll all be enlightened, right?