Downtown, amidst the closed business shops, the proliferation of storefront churches, dollar stores, and other vestiges of a neglected business district, lies a ray of hope, a haven for the less fortunate and a blessing for a community under stress. I speak of Habitat for Humanity, a place where deeds take precedence over words, an oasis for those who give and receive and sadly, subject to the financial realities facing all of us during these troubled times. Their lease is expiring; their landlord is looking to triple the rent. But, this is not about the landlord --- it is about all of us; the City which does not seem to have a vision and purpose for its downtown, citizens who respond nobly to calamities such as Haiti, New Orleans, and September 11, but find it difficult to stand up and do something to preserve and protect what is most fundamentally decent and needed in our society. I am among those who can be indicted for this form of benign neglect and I don't know what to do about my own sense of powerlessness, lack of commitment, or both. But, maybe someone out there does know what can be done, Perhaps tomorrow I will come up with the spirit and will to make a difference. I pray both of these happen.
Talk of the Sound is important; much more important than I originally thought. Like with the Armory, I tended to ignore the importance of symbols, of visible signs of a community that cares before it is politically correct to symbolically care. Take Haiti, I cluck my tongue, shed tears, and write a check or two. This counts to be sure, Media stars do much the same only in greater amounts. However, with few exceptions, they are there when tragedy is in the public domain; in the public eye. Habitat is there when it is not fashionable to be there. There are many great human beings there and we learn of them only during tragedies – the women running an orphanage on prayer, spit and little else. You have seen them during the past few weeks.
New Rochelle is not Port a Prince, New Orleans, Kabul and we can only hope and trust that it never becomes so. Yet, we have our own little pockets of neglect and it takes a form of some natural disaster to awaken our hearts, minds, and hands to action. A poorly conceived business plan and questionable developer threaten our armory and a landlord who likely in angling to sell a property threaten a community treasure; no, in reality a community necessity for the poorest among us, Habitat. It is not newsworthy, but it is critical. However, the Talk of the Sound provides an important source of awareness and statistics are showing that this call for help, in a form I am currently unable to describe, is possible. God, or something else in the world if your prefer, often works in mysterious ways, and perhaps someone out there will do more than read this and move on.
That might be someone in the City Administration who I suspect have not given much thought to the issues around real estate downtown much less in the fate of Habitat. I am hoping that our Mayor and Council can step in and do something about a linchpin of both downtown development and community hope. Often “wake up calls” do little but cause the power base to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep. It appears as if that could be the case in Washington even after the latest voices of the people have been heard. St Thomas a Kempis warned us about vanity and Plato, hubris. They are the same and they cripple the same way. If they did not, we would see a restored armory, a different approach to health insurance, etc.... but we have not and may not.
Jim Killoran is a gift to this community; a bit of a enigma to City Hall, but someone who acts with spirit and purpose. He is, not surprisingly, on his way to Haiti and he has a pocket full of one dollar bills to hand out to people as well as concrete ideas to begin restoration as soon as the crisis eases. He is a man with both small and big ideas; a man who is not opposed to wearing a goofy Santa outfit during the holiday season any more than he is putting on a suit and tie and pleading the cause of the downtrodden. He has a treasure in his store, Mary Bonner, a member of the local Habitat board of directors who painstakingly takes care of business while making sure Jim is presentable at all times in all ways. This gifted woman was formerly, I believe the head of a large school board in some Long Island District and how I wish she was serving in a similar capacity now in New Rochelle.
They love us; they need us. Neither have asked me for help in any way; in fact, this poor piece might even concern them. But, each early morning, I drop in after the gym and greet them. They are busy doing the right things. They have discovered, I think, the true meaning of all that matters in the world and that is compassion. Compassion goes a very long way. I would ask that those people in the City empowered, actually blessed, to be of service to this community, find a way to make this whole. We cannot afford to lose Habitat for Humanity.