Too often it takes a loss or just now, a terrible tragedy, to learn about something we needed to know, such as the community way of life enjoyed in the East Harlem’s two buildings decimated by a gas explosion. Of course, we care most about the at least eight peeople killed, and those who mourn them, and the many severe injuries, and the lost homes. But, so all important to believers in reviving neighborly connections was the ground-floor Spanish Christian Church mostly responsible for this connected way of life.
All this and more was so thankfully brought to light by the March 14 Times front page story, “In Two Buildings, Lives Entwined as in a Bygone Era.” Naturally, I protest its being a bygone era, but rather a semblance of one we desperately need to revive in a society with so many too much alone or/and going it alone. Some of us call it “the new smoking” public health hazard – and then some.
Ah, but nobody heeded the warnings, say, in Vance Packard’s early 1970s best seller, “A Nation of Strangers,” or the late 1970’s James Lynch’s “The Broken Heart, the Medical Consequences of Loneliness.” And there are other related books by Christopher Lasch, Daniel Goleman, and many others who warned about the growing lack of vital human connections. And now there is cyberspace where the connections are often trivial, selfie-directed (“me deep in conversation”) and hateful. And some people don’t even talk on the phone much anymore. Ever wish cyberspace had not been invented? Some accredited social scientists like Neil Postman surely leans that way in in his book, “Technopoly.”
But, again, do read the Times story which could be considered a Lenten reading or pre-Passover reading and required reading for all concerned with, say, “The Caring Society,” sought by the Menninger Foundation some decades ago.
Somehow, the mayor must realize that it’s not just housing desperately needed by those displaced (or anyone else), but a caring and connected community.
A related digression, this also makes for a safe community, which Msgr. Harry Bryne called “The Fist Civil Liberty” in his Times op ed, published in high crime times. His pertinent homilies in this paper and his dedicated multi-faith work in affordable housing on the Upper East Side (and East Harlem too, I think) were also invaluable.
Ah, but, oh so universally needed for harmonious shared housing, shared lives, and communication in general, was the Epiphany Church series of workshops planned by Sister Margaret and its then pastor, Msgr. Byrne, based on Haim Ginnott’s best-selling communication-skill books. Speaking of Lenten and pre-Passover reading and all who care about building caring communities, the books included were “Between Parent and Child” and “Between Parent and Teenager.” Their lessons apply to all relationships.
But again, great and lasting good must come out of this terrible tragedy in East Harlem, and I can’t help but remember the poignant last line of Virginia Scott Miner’s little poem which Karl Menninger said he read every morning. It said, “Fear only the not caring – oh my dear, fear this – fear this.”
Fear the forgetting.
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