Anne Notations

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I needed that

It was 8:30 pm by the time I headed down Oakland Beach Avenue toward home last night. I'd been at work since 8:15 in the morning and had stayed in the city late to attend a pastoral council meeting at our church. The darkness alongside the highway seemed to menace the swath of illumination from my car lights, and I felt vaguely apprehensive. We had had a long a discussion at our meeting about dwindling attendance at weekend Masses, shrinking contributions in the offering baskets, the abrupt resignation of the organist that has left us temporarily without music, the fact that our stewardship weekend two weeks ago had yielded just one new volunteer. We were all thinking: What's to become of our dear parish?

On my way home, I saw storefronts with large "FOR RENT" signs in their windows. The Blockbuster across from our Stop & Shop is closing; posters advertise half-price DVDs.

Then, I came to Oakland Beach itself. When we bought our house here in 2006, and moved down in 2007, the economy hadn't yet taken its worst nosedive. Real estate was plateauing, for sure, but at neighborhood association meetings we discussed block grants and a new master plan, improvements to the area, traffic calming and street trees. A real estate investor was buying up properties with exciting plans to rehab houses and build new ones, and eventually to improve the main commercial strip. Growth! Improvement! Aesthetic touches! Everyone was on board the progress train.

Now, the same ambitious investor is selling off some of his properties, including a cottage on our dead-end road. His dream of upgrading the area is another victim of the floundering economy. One of the rehab projects sits half-finished, its upper story finished and sided, the first floor desolate, unsided, with gaping holes for windows. I had been reading earlier about the desperate plights of Detroit and Flint, Michigan, which are turning into abandoned wastelands. What happens, I wondered, when towns and cities go under? When it all collapses, when people leave or become homeless, when investors run away? What happens when more people lose their jobs and, eventually, their homes? How will people survive?

We baby boomers are entering older age in a far different reality and frame of mind from those we enjoyed for more than a half-century. Our postwar childhoods and our prime working years were prosperous and forward-looking. Incomes went up steadily, city and federal services were plentiful, public education in the suburbs was excellent and well rounded. We dreamed, and we spent.

It all seems decadent now, even for those of us who lived solidly middle-class lives. To think that I used to shop for recreation! Go to flea markets! Plan vacations! Today, in contrast, life seems circumscribed and grim. I know we are still fortunate compared to most of the world's souls, but in the dark evenings of autumn, scary and oppressive thoughts of decay, ruin, and potential poverty are powerful bogeymen.

Such were my dreary thoughts as I drove, bone-tired, down the avenue toward home. Out of the darkness, a puddle of light shone around the entrance to the Congregational Church. I drew closer and noticed a sign hanging outside the church's front door. It was one of those simple white grooved boards that you stick black letters into.

The sign said: HAVE FAITH.

Have faith. Have faith. The words seemed spoken into my ears, not just silent black symbols on a sign. I was so struck by their message, I actually went back this morning to photograph the sign at the church. But ... it was already gone.

Signs mean what we want them to, and I try to keep a lid on my tendency toward magical thinking. But every once in a while, in times of confusion, fatigue, or despair, we may round a corner and see a message that is eerily apt for our situation.

Have faith.
What can I do but try?


  • Amen.

    You could be describing my neighborhood, there was so much new construction here a few years ago and now more than one of the houses have been abandoned to foreclosure.

    I know it's human nature to keep going no matter what, but it's so disturbing to think that everyone was put in jeopardy because the people who were supposed to know what they were doing blew it.

    That sign said it best, though. I'm glad you got to see it and I'm glad you shared it with us. *hugs*

    By Blogger BrideOfPorkins, at Thu Oct 29, 01:42:00 AM EDT  

  • Anne,
    We just watched "Capitalism Hits the Fan" on Linktv (Prof. Richard Wolff). Even though I know all the content, it's a shock all over again. This followed a conversation with my mom today, I keep her up to date on all the store closings here in NJ and she said "Rome is burning." I sighed and agreed, then went off to lunch to discuss how we are all hanging by a fingernail, scared. When these little signs appear we have to hang on tight, God is speaking to us. you are not alone in your thoughts and this sign you saw with the most important message of all, from God, will give your readers some hope, it has quite a ripple effect, thank you. Cheryl

    By Blogger Cheryl Leigh, at Thu Oct 29, 10:53:00 PM EDT  

  • "Faith" - it takes so much to get by these days.
    My small-town America could have been the town you were writing about.
    Where and when does this all end???

    By Blogger r_weeks, at Fri Oct 30, 10:18:00 PM EDT  

  • I like the idea of cautiously taking a sign to heart.

    There's a BC strip in which a guy looks up and says, "G-d if you're there send me a sign." And then a giant sign surrounded with dressing room mirror lights falls on him and it reads, "I"M HERE."

    By Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann, at Sun Nov 01, 01:02:00 AM EST  

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