I am a frequent traveler to NYC, and a resident in Philadelphia since 2006. As a child I visited both cities as the outsider looking in. I was always mesmerized by all I got to see. But living in a place is the only way to truly understand it. I learn something new about my two favorite cities everyday. Among my reflections, I often think about the quality of life we receive. Depending where you fall on the social ladder, your living standards can range from bleak to bountiful. As we all go about our business, we may feel little control over our lives, let alone the universe at large. We all see the truth about our surroundings, but busy ourselves to numb the sight of pain. I can never get used to seeing those who have to resort to living in the streets, families struggling just to make ends meet, or the unhealthy (as myself) who are barely holding on to security. And there are endless examples of the unfortunate realities that exist.
As a sociologist, I often think in terms of social change. So while dreaming about the possibilities, I came up with an idea. I am sure others have thought it, and are even doing something about it. When we see all the help needed, and don’t know where to start, we get overwhelmed. Sometimes too many decisions lead to indecision. Where to volunteer, who to donate to, how to get involved…the questions can make your head spin. I was in this place recently. I have been unemployed due to health issues, and I needed a consistent activity to do once a week. The goal was to help me maintain a schedule while I am healing. I started looking on www.volunteermatch.com and found many great opportunities. I picked a few, and then mulled over the best choice. I wondered what I was most interested in, what I was willing to commit to, what could help me in the future. Weeks passed, and I was still stuck thinking. The universe realized I needed direction, and sent an arrow my way. I ran into my neighbor and friend, and we caught up on what’s new. He mentioned wanting to clean the lot at the end of the block. He remembered how I was involved in organizing such events, and asked for my help. By the end of the conversation, which included several other neighbors, we made a decision. We picked a date and time, and I agreed to create flyers to post. In a one hour conversation I was shown the way I could give back within my abilities. Volunteering in my neighborhood once a week is low maintenance, if I get tired I can come home easily, and getting there’s a snap. It would help built community with my neighbors. And since this is our home, we have a vested interest to stay involved. So the light bulb went off. What if just five people on every block got involved in all the issues related to their block? Cleaning, crime, events, and other happenings that effect the neighborhood. How much of an impact could this have? A team of five cleans up a lot, paints the benches and picnic table. Then the word gets out that this space can be used. Next we plan a party for the kids and adults, get music, refreshments, and people. As people get to know each other we learn to protect our neighbors. The potential for growth is endless. If we all learn to focus on just what is around us, do what we can to change things, then nothing is impossible. I pass the community garden down the street and I imagine a future where we can learn to create sustainable communities. No longer will we have to suffer in silence over the injustices, because now we take a stand. Please enjoy this poem on the subjects discussed.
Two Cities, Two Hours, Two Sides
New York – the bright lights, big city spreading so far, so chic,
as to hide the reality of the city streets.
But a different story around the bend,
where the city ends.
Philly – dingy, dirty, beyond those center city streets.
Not enough to hide the reality.
People…they don’t forget their streets.
The tourist town not large enough,
to flood the conscience to deny the truth.
These cities, our cities when will they destruct?
How far can you push out poverty,
How long can you forget…downtown borders are connected to outskirt boroughs?
This isn’t the city they paint for you,
or paint for me…
but what about childhood residency?
What happens to those who stay and live here,
call this place home;
not just a poster in the travel agent’s window?
Can’t forever pretend the brochures are fact,
that things are ok,
that we will all last.
Now all the synapses are firing hard.
Because now I live here, I’m not on tour.
I’m seeing my home, I’m seeing my place.
I’m seeing that what you’re seeing, is not the same.
Because I used to stand over there…outsider looking in;
what a pretty city it can be then.
But scratch the surface and learn the facts.
Learn that crime is not a cloud.
Can’t push it further and hope for no rain.
It permeates the soil beneath,
because the soil belongs to we.
But monarchs decide where the ladder extends,
and let those fall off at the end.
City dollars, budgets, plans…
for a more beautiful core…
what about the edge?
What about the middle?
What about the whole?
The city pushes, pulls, and sways.
The people in rhythm…with every movement.
A city beats and breathes as one.
Each resident connected in soul.
Even as we close our doors,
turn our eyes,
forget the world.
The city is deep, the roots of our parent.
For we are all children of the same seed.
When we each reach for freedom,
We grow our own dreams.
3/23/10 —– Preeti Pathak