a look of lament toward home

Continental USA & St. Louis, MOAs the latest sorrowing chapter of our ongoing American saga of racial dis-ease continues to be penned in Ferguson, Missouri, I awoke this morning with St. Louis on my mind and an ache in my heart.

St. Louis. The city of my birth, my socialization within a supportive circle of family and friends, my education in a decent public school system, my spiritual foundation in All Saints’ Episcopal Church. But, over time, a place I remember for trees, vacant lots, and corner taverns.

Trees. Dick Gregory once opined that St. Louis would not experience the rioting so common to other rust belt urban communities in the 1960s. Too many trees whose shade relieved the adverse effects of destructive outrage stoked by the summer’s oppressive heat.

Vacant lots. It seemed that every block in the segregated city corridors had one. Some overripe with weeds. Others with abandoned buildings of broken windows, collapsing roofs, and decaying foundations. The neighborhood despoliation, depressing. The decay, in part, a manifestation of municipal abdication of responsibility, hidden, like Poe’s purloined letter, in plain sight.

Corner taverns. Small and homey, some with darkened, barred windows and narrow, gated doors. Set at street-edge, making the blazing neon signage of invitation a siren call impossible to ignore. Rivaling in number the many churches and offering their own brand of religion or opiate to relieve the pain of living with the daily drudgery of little opportunity for betterment.

When Pontheolla and I began to focus on our retirement years, she, with typical kindness, asked, “Would you consider moving back to St. Louis?” With memories stippled by images, painted on the canvasses of historical record and personal experience, of racial inequality, I answered, “No.”

Still, I hurt…and hope for my hometown.

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2 thoughts on “a look of lament toward home

  1. I’m very sorry Paul. I’ve thought of you daily as this has unfolded and escalated, though I certainly don’t want to say I know what you’re thinking and feeling because I don’t. Please know that you and everyone in and around Missouri are in our thoughts and prayers.

    Everything happening in Ferguson are the kinds of events / situations that remain on our hearts and mind for the rest of our lives. I was nine years old when MLK was assassinated yet I remember the resulting riots in my neighborhood in DC like it was yesterday. All the stores in our neighborhood, including the local cleaners were looted. When the riots were over, we saw a woman walking down the street with my Aunt Diane’s dress on that was taken when the cleaners was looted. My grandmother implored me to keep quiet as I started to say “that’s Diane’s dress!”. I wanted my aunt’s dress back! We lost a lot of clothes from the cleaners but my Mom explained that others may have needed the clothes more than we did, and that with MLK’s death we had lost so much more than items of clothing. I can still hear my Mom saying that. We read all the articles together around the kitchen table about MLK and many tears were shed. For me, Ferguson feels like that time period all over again. Lots of guns, lots of fear, lots of tears. I feel the same emptiness now as I remember feeling back then. You’re just NUMB.

    Wishing you Peace my friend!

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  2. Loretta, your reflection on your experience of the post-MLK assassination rioting in DC deepens my current anguish, for it reminds me of how little we have progressed as a nation. Still, my element of hope, somehow flickering, I find rests in folk like you who, having been direct witnesses to tumultuous historical moments, can and do choose to live with care and compassion for others. Would that we all could and would do likewise. Thank you.

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