Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Suburban Paradox

I cannot count how many times I've breathed a sigh of relief when I turn onto Forest Hills boulevard and drive under the graceful stone arch of the pedestrian bridge linking the two properties where a century ago the worlds fist billionaire, John D Rockefeller, raised his family. After an exhausting day in a world where raging hormones combine with poverty, crime, ignorance, and filth; it is the archway that welcomes me home, back to the green peaceful suburb on top of the hill.

You can often find me wandering the leafy streets with my dog, Max.
A case study in paradox, Max is a timid Doberman who hides behind me when approached by strange dogs, and neighbors, even children. He is a large, muscular, elegant beast, with champion bloodlines. Rather than a guard dog snarl, he shows his teeth in and a goofy fido-grin, trips over his own feet when he plays, and prefers sleeping on the couch to going for walks.

Last week I dragged the reluctant Max from his hiding place under the dining room table, where he sought refuge upon recognizing the sound made by the leash as I lifted it off the hook by the back door. He trotted alongside me, stopping occasionally to sniff a tree trunk or mark a shrub. We strolled along the sidewalk, my thoughts drifting from my family, to my work, my future, the next project, the beautiful gardens, the lovely homes. It was Sunday morning, and the neighborhood was serene, so quiet that it hardly seemed like a city. The only sounds were occasional chirps and twitters that punctuated the cicadas buzz-whirr dronings, like little engines, from the tops of the eighty foot oak trees.

Without warning, we were startled by a terrible racket coming from screaming feathered throats, as three birds, beaks over tails, came tumbling out of the sky landing in a furious heap on the treelawn in front of us. Three birds fell to the ground...Only two arose. Left behind was the tiny brown body of a female English sparrow, her frenzied mate continuing his attack upon the blackbird who had been raiding their nest.
Max sniffed at the lifeless bird. My composure shaken, I yanked the leash hard, pulling him away.

The peace of my idyllic morning had been shattered by the harsh Darwinian reality of nature.

As we continued, the tumultuous event replayed itself repeatedly in my head. I couldn't help but relate the murderous scene to headlines I've read recently; home invasions, young mother's and children attacked and killed. How often we forget the cruelty of nature when we envision the world without man.

Several blocks later my thoughts were disrupted once again.
"Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up!"
"Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up!"
"Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up!"
A shrill woman's voice shouted over a small child's steady cries.

I stood in front of the neat, white colonial with blue shutters, and listened. The voices were coming from an upstairs bedroom window left open to let in the cool morning air.

The yelling and crying continued for a couple of minutes. The same phrase repeated again and again, followed each time by a slap. Then it was silent.
Transfixed, I continued to stare at the house.
What should I do? I didn't see anything. I don't know who was involved. The woman's voice sounded foreign, but I couldn't be sure. Was she a parent or a babysitter? Was the child being slapped or was something else being hit? I couldn't tell.
After another minute or so I continued along the sidewalk, making a mental note of the address.

How deceiving the pretty facade of the suburb. The veil of calm and orderliness provided by affluence is a thin disguise to the troubled lives of the people who live behind the ivy covered walls, leaded glass windows, and manicured lawns.

That morning's events made recall a letter that was sent to me a few weeks ago by a thoughtful young friend. He included this essay written a few years ago by George Carlin.

Paradox of Time

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete. Remember, spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side. Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent. Remember, to say, "I love you" to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak, and give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

George Carlin

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