Ciaran Carson has been keeping me company again. He's writing about Belfast and the various uprisings, music, smoking, libraries, his father, and the compression of time that storytellers apply as they regale their audiences. Of course, as he writes of Befast I cannot help but think of Richmond.
Church Hill, with its colonial steeples, stares across the valley to the highrise office towers of downtown. It's a pissing contest between progress and history. One must be preserved if the other is to have any legs to stand on, but don't tell that to those reaching for the heavens in their southern Babel. Their victory seems certain until you walk the numbered streets of the neighborhood.
Bricks undulate as tree roots push and shove their way to water. The early summer sun warms the pavement, reflecting from the windows of centuries-old townhomes. A woman sipping her coffee on her back porch waves and greets me. The genteel south, with all of its terrifying hypocrisy welcomes me...and I love it.
Last night I was sitting at a table with a resident of the Richmond Hill community. We were swapping pedigrees. Our families have been in and out of Richmond for more than a century. Her great-great grandparents had to purchase their freedom. Mine struggled with so many others to articulate what "freedom" would actually mean. Progress has come and there we sat around the table saying, "the past is the past and the present is indeed a gift." It's a cliche that serves when the horrors of the past threaten the present moment with its violence. In those moments we're given a choice. The holy now is no less holy for the horrors we recollect and carry with us.
We can starve ourselves or we can, like trees lining the streets of the old city, push our way through the brickwork toward reconciliation.
What then about the glaring faces of steeples and highrises competing for our allegiance? I cannot say. Patrick Henry's voice still echoes from the nave of St. John's Church. "Give me liberty or give me death" he cries. Some player will dress in period garb and recite the speech perhaps several times every week. His hair is pulled back in the aristocrat's pony tail.
Patrick Henry was an earring shy from being labled a communist or hippy. He was certainly an insurrectionist.
Is there such a voice in the highrises? Who proclaims liberty? Who stands in their hypocrisy and pleads for liberty knowing full well that true progress will be generations in the making, that true liberty might only come in an apocalyptic uprising? No wonder Henry stood in the nave.
We post-moderns (you know, "after the modern"...or something) still struggle with where we stand. The ground slips and slides beneath our feet. Those uneven pavers plague us. We have to watch every last step lest we trip on some old root, some mislaid brick, or the crumbling detrious that falls from colonial walls and gleaming highrise windows alike.
Thankfully there is a woman who, in her Holy Wisdom, greets us joyfully as she sips from her cup. Maybe we'll be fortunate enough that she will invite us in to share.