Sunday, November 6, 2016

Surviving Impermanence


One of the things I admire about Buddhist thought is its ability to look truth square in the face. No fanciful projections of an Almighty God looking over you or another loving you or another wanting to smite you, no promise of some white-robed heaven or threat of some burning hell, no insistence that you believe or else. One of its central doctrines is Impermanence, that we are incarnated into a fleeting world and maybe the best we can do is move along with the changes like an awake and alert jazz musician, align ourselves with each passing moment, which properly experienced contains all moments.The idea is to not attach yourself overly to each fleeting moment, to (in Blake's words) "kiss the joy as it flies," to let go and just stay alive and alert to the wholeness of the next moment.

So this will not be a Buddhist lecture, filled as it is with my obvious attachments to my own past. But also with my coming to peace with the parts that are physically gone while still appreciating the parts that remain. The storyline in brief:

Spent the morning walking with the young folks on the Atlantic City boardwalk, past all the street names used in Monopoly—Baltic Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and more. And of course, Boardwalk and Park Place. Our destination was the Trump Taj Mahal. I felt that seeing this ostentatious ruin with his name plastered all over it all closed down, with prophetic ravens circling, would feel like a good omen for Tuesday’s spectacle. Mr. Good-Businessman-Winner bought it, remodeled it (starting of course with his name everywhere), didn’t pay the workers—and it closed down. That kind of impermanence I can heartily celebrate, as I hope to Tuesday night when this year’s nightmare will pass into the fairy tale lore of ogres and demons of yore defeated by their own meanness and greed.

After the boardwalk, got into my zippy rental red car and headed up to my next destination, the city of Newark close to where I grew up. Had thought I’d skip visiting my town, but when I saw Roselle on the sign for Exit 136, I couldn’t resist. Came in at the north end of town, past Roselle Shopping Center, which back in my day meant some 8 stores or so. And darn if that Chinese restaurant that was my first taste of “ethnic food” wasn’t still there! (i.e., it was!).

On I drove past my gym teacher Mr. Sal’s house, the first girl I kissed (Susan Hermann’s) house, Abraham Clark High School where I went for 8th grade, Harrison School where I went from kindergarten to 7th grade. Drove past my corner stores, all gone except C&D Liquor, past my piano teacher Mrs. Lutz’s house, past Davie Horn’s house with his collection of Playboy magazines in the attic and down old Sheridan Avenue to where my house used to be before Hurricane Sandy. Someone was walking in the front door and I got out and asked her about what happened and if it was okay to take a photo of my old still-standing garage. Then my neighbor came out and I told him who I was and he remembered my Dad with affection. (He moved there when I was in college, so I didn’t know him that well.) He encouraged me to say hi to Cookie, the only other surviving neighbor I knew and I did. Except for the absence of the trees in my old front yard and the house I lived in, everything else was intact.

Then I drove through Warinanco Park, the place I spent countless hours of my childhood. Ice-skating rink and Stadium gone, but mostly it was what it used to be and with the sun setting and autumn colors still ablaze, it was simply beautiful. As was the town in general. Houses with character, streets with old trees and of course, vibrant memories abounding.

On I drove past the Elmora neighborhood in the next town, Elmora Movie Theater closed, but the marquee still up, Sam and Andy’s vegetables gone, Federal Lanes bowling gone, but the quaint Elmora Library still there and open! On I drove past my old high school building (the school itself, Pingry, moved a long time ago) and felt my way through the old familiar streets to downtown Newark. Tomorrow I give a jazz workshop to the jazz musicians working at NJ Performing Arts Center where Stefon Harris is the artistic director. How excited am I about that?!!!

I saw a T-shirt that said, “Shhhh. Nobody cares.” And of course, I don’t expect the closing of Sam and Andy’s to be of interest to you, the reader. But if this helps you think about your own childhood home, be it nearby or far-away, or think about when you last visited or whether you should again or had you reflect on the nature of impermanence and converted you to Buddhism, well then, hey, my work is done.

And now on to the next timeless moment.

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