Saturday, September 23, 2006

Autumnal Musings and Confusions

Autumn arrives today with a cold rain and threats of frost over the last few nights. The rain precludes lighting a candle at sunset on my dog's grave---something I have done almost every night since his passing 21 days ago---but we can still light candles for him indoors with the same sacred and loving intention. The spirit world does not stand on ceremony, at least in my definition of such.

As summer comes to an end, the days of kids playing in the water park adjacent to our clinic also cease. Now hordes of children file past our office at 3pm every afternoon, backpacks and books over some shoulders, many sheets of paper and homework strewn on the already littered ground. Once past the crossing guard near the school across the street, the kids stream through our busy parking lot, slipping between cars, darting into traffic, locking eyes with drivers and silently challenging them to do anything about this daily invasion of youth. What worries me are the reckless drivers---both male and female---throughout the city where we work and thankfully do not live. Traffic lights and stop signs seem to mean little. Forget yield signs. They may as well not exist. Crowded residential streets are just freeways, and as a driver, I am often challenged by cars coming in the opposite direction who seem to intentionally drive in my lane, forcing me to slow down to avoid a head-on collision. It's chaos, and makes our crowded but rather pedestrian town look like a haven, which it is not.

Outside of our office yesterday, a fight between two boys broke out, a crowd of at least 100 kids quickly coalescing around the protagonists. We have broken up a number of these fights over time, and it seems that whenever we do so, one of our windows is invariably broken shortly thereafter. So yesterday we called the clinic security officer and he called for a cruiser. Our Latino colleagues with whom I work seem to take these periodic fights nonchalantly and are hesitant to get involved at all. Having grown up in Brooklyn, The Bronx, and elsewhere, they see these youthful turf battles as normal, although I'm sure they advise their own children to steer clear of such violence. I usually want to run outside and break it up, but they warn me that these days middle-school kids can be just as likely as teenagers or adults to carry knives or guns. However, just the sight of an adult with an official badge and a stethoscope around the neck can end most any fight. But am I just another example of a white do-gooder imposing my culture and ideals on a community where I don't live?

Other autumnal signs are the mums which were planted in the front of the clinic to spruce up the landscaping. Within several days, a few of the plants were dug up and stolen, a few others simply mutilated. Our landscaping is often vandalized, and sometimes I wonder why we bother, already spending hundreds on new windows and paint to cover graffiti. One must choose one's battles carefully.

Working in an area where poverty is prevalent, one becomes inured to litter, trash in the streets, the detritus of drug use, used condoms, and vandalism. Our office has thankfully avoided any broken windows for over three months after a rash of violence that cost us several thousand dollars. The schoolchildren fight periodically, the plants are stolen, the sidewalks plastered with school papers dropped like so much forgotten junk. I see families with small children walking along, the parents equally tossing candy wrappers, bags and juice cartons to the round, modelling for their children behavior which can last a lifetime. It can all come down to one notion, I guess: if you feel undervalued by the world and society at large, you will in turn undervalue that world yourself. You may even undervalue your own health. And that's where it comes around and bites you on the bottom.

I try not to be jaded. I try to approach these situations with a fresh perspective. I endeavor to also exmaine my own motives and reasonings. Today the beginnings of Autumn bring some sadness and a sense of loss as the deneoument of Summer comes to its anticlimatic completion. But here we are, and here we remain. Welcome Autumn, and may you lead us gently into the deep cold days of Winter.
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