When I drive down the streets of our declining city, from time to time I will see pink or blue-bannered storks propped up in people’s front yards. They announce the birth of a new baby girl or boy. A flash of warmth floods within my heart, and for that moment, I feel that all is right with our world.
Sadly, I don’t have to drive much farther to see some street-side, temporary memorial of deflated balloons, fading flowers, rain-soaked stuffed animals and such that are tied to a telephone pole. They memorialize that tragic death of a loved one. Someone’s loved one has died in that very spot – and that saddens me in a couple of ways; you are not going to like some of them.
I know what is like to lose a loved one. Again, my godson, who was as my first son, was shot and killed when he was but 14 years old. My mom died at 29; and I was a month short of my eighth birthday. The later impacted me so much so that every time that I drove under the old north Main Street railroad viaduct and I saw the mid-street iron support that was dented as a result of a fatal accident that occurred there in 1960, I cringed. Now, even when passing under the new railroad bridge, even though there is no mid-street supports, my mind still flashes back to that incident more than 50 years ago. I know how it feels when someone dies whom I did not know at all.
How would I remember that, when I was only 6 years old, you ask? It is because I remember hearing my mother talking about it when she would drive us on Main Street to go shopping, and I internalized her feelings about what had happened. That was when both she and Main Street were still alive. In many ways, my mom still lives in my memory; and for many of us older Niagarans, Main Street still lives in ours.
But for the younger Niagarans, they never knew either. All that they knew was of a dying city that was tightly holding to their dying dreams, as it slipped away; and now they have come to celebrate death instead of life.
We now name highway overpasses after murder victims. Where it says, “WELCOME TO NIAGARA FALLS,” we have a memorial street sign that tells visitors that someone died there. Sadly, it only takes them a short drive from that sign and they can easily see where an entire city is also dying.
And there are other such signs.
But, where are the signs that tells us where great Niagarans were born? Those who breathed life into a once prosperous city and altered the course of American culture elsewhere. There have been hundreds, if not thousands of such Niagarans, be they born here or just worked here to make Niagara great? Where is it that we celebrate their lives?
The Bible tells us, and great philosophers remind us, that we will manifest that which we think most upon – those things that we celebrate. Our environment plays a role in how we think about things, and our collective thoughts create our collective environment. We are what we think we are, and Niagarans seemingly have a fascination with death -- so our city is dying.
For instance, when a young man, who often is engaged in illegal activity, succumbs to someone much like himself, there we stand with our Bibles and candles, mourning his death and exclaiming that we must stop the violence. Why are we not out there with those handful of Catholics, who faithfully and fervently plead with the sisters and friends of these fallen boys and men, as these women proceed into the abortion clinics and offer up many hundredfold of their unborn babies to be slaughtered in abortion clinics?
We need to be more like the faithful Catholics and to celebrate both life and the conquering of death.
It is Good Friday; and for us so-called Christians, our minds will be at the foot of a cross that was 5800 miles and 2000 years away. In most churches, those sparse congregants will observe a less than elaborate and ceremonial celebration of the death of Christ. But come Sunday morning, Easter, those on the packed pews will celebrate the resurrection of Christ in a celebration of life; and it will renew many of their religious lives.
Such celebrations should serve as an example to us all in our responsibility to resurrect our city, too. We must take every opportunity to celebrate life – be it in a new immigrant, a new imagination, a new building, a new business and especially a new baby.
This may be our last best chance to do so. Let's get it done.
Contact Ken Hamilton at email@example.com.