Every once in a while, I'll read something and think, "Wow. That really impacted my thinking." Usually I move on, incorporating what I learned in some little way but not really focusing on it. Then there are the times I read something, and I return to it in my head again and again.
In May, my friend Suebob Davis wrote two things that fall into the latter category. Yes, May was not that long ago, but I have been thinking about her words quite a bit. First, she wrote a wonderful piece about her neighborhood. The Avenue reminded me of everything that I want from a community. Diversity, interest in and concern for one's neighbors, and a sense of unique place. I realized that although I enjoy where I live, I don't have any of that, nor have I ever lived in a place like that. If I'm honest, it made me jealous. It also made me excited, though: excited that this is not just something that I can read about and want, but something that people really do strive towards and achieve. The Avenue gives me hope.
The other thing she wrote was about how individuals react after a tragedy. We are all Boston. We are all Oklahoma touched on several things that have rattled around my head since Sept. 11, 2001. After Sept. 11, I was really angry by the number of people outside of NYC who claimed to be part of what we went through. As Suebob said, "No, you're not." It outraged me most when elected officials from across America who had tried to or actually passed many laws that harmed New York in many ways over the years got to cash in on this, then went right back to fucking us over. When people who called our city - in some ways a much larger version of The Avenue - a place of sinners and evil because of the very things that make New York strong and wonderful were suddenly, temporarily wearing "I (Heart) NY" shirts, I wanted to punch them. However, I was supposed to be grateful for their good tidings even though most of these expressions of support yielded nothing of use. And then of course they went away as time went on and NYC again was a safe haven for evildoers.
I understand that people want to be part of the bigger things. It's actually admirable. But as Suebob said, talk is cheap. I thought a lot about this while reading the July issue of Runner's World magazine. It is dedicated to the Boston Marathon tragedy. Many of the stories are about how runners around the world wanted to support the victims of Boston by organizing runs, or by making crafts and selling them to raise money. I was supposed to be inspired by this, but it just made me furious. Running is lovely, but what does it achieve except letting you feel good about yourself. "Hi, I ran for you, and now I feel like I did something positive for the world, so now I can move on with my life," is selfish. Period. Selling shit to raise money is a bit better, as it least there is some sort of actual positive end result somewhere, but it's just part of the bigger trend in America where we try to fix things through consumption. Consumerism does not in the long run cure anything that ails society.
To create The Avenue, it takes hard work. Some of it is donating money, some of it is rolling up sleeves and performing manual tasks, and some of it is, in my mind, even harder. If we want to stop people from being hurt by mass shootings or terrorism, we need real policies that address these issues. Security theater is not the answer. Addressing social inequality and valuing all people is. And it is hard. And it will never 100% work because there will always be a sociopath or loner or whatever who is going to do bad things. The answer then is to not give into fear and retreat into our own bubbles. People on The Avenue work at community. It is something we all should model.