It’s Up To You, New York, New York
I was in Brooklyn watching my two granddaughters during last week’s monster snowstorm. Between late Friday and Saturday evening the neighborhood was inundated with 30 inches of sideways snow. When the storm finally ended the city was blessedly silent, like when the refrigerator kicks off and you hear nothing, absolutely nothing. On Sunday morning there was still no sound but Frost’s, “easy wind and downy flake.”
Twenty-four hours later the city had pretty much recovered and returned to its noisy energetic self. My son and his wife flew home Sunday evening, LaGuardia being already open. My granddaughters headed to school on Monday morning, streets being clear and clean. Shortly thereafter I left for LaGuardia and an on-time flight to Denver. Meanwhile, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore were still shut down, quieter than a cornfield. Not so long ago it would have been the same in New York.
In the 80s I was preaching in Brooklyn. On our Sunday morning drive from Long Island the kids would count the number of burned out cars on the Belt Parkway, vehicles that had been at someone’s home 12 hours earlier. On average there were about 20 stripped down and burned out vehicles on a 21-mile stretch of highway.
In 1983 I approved a single mother for adoption. She had purchased a brownstone in Brooklyn for $92,000, a dump really. I wasn’t even sure I could approve it for the placement of a child. The whole city looked like that house – a wreck. I wouldn’t take the subways after dark and wouldn’t park overnight in the city, ever. But that was then.
Nowadays there are no burned out cars on the Belt Parkway. The litter has been cleared and the marshlands turned into a national park. And that brownstone in Brooklyn, the one I was convinced was a money pit? Yeah, it’s worth a few million dollars now! What a difference a couple of decades can make!
In 1969 a smaller snowstorm shut down New York City so badly it was a contributing factor in Mayor John Lindsay losing his job. This weekend’s snowstorm made even a mediocre mayor look good. What changed?
In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell suggests one of the reasons New York began to change was Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s campaign to end petty crimes like subway graffiti and turnstile hopping. The leadership of Mike Bloomberg took the city to an even greater level of efficiency. So this past weekend, a snowstorm that still has Washington and Baltimore shut down was handled in stride by the Big Apple.
I am currently reading City on Fire, a novel about New York in the 1970s. It reminds me how much has changed in such a short time. Years ago I heard a lecture in which M. Scott Peck enumerated his reasons for believing in God. Among them he said, “Even though the second law of thermodynamics says the universe is wearing out, I see a world reinventing itself time and again.” Many called Peck a deluded optimist, but I believe he was right. Everything does not have to move from order to disorder. If you can change the culture of America’s largest city in less than a quarter century, why stop there?
With passion, hard work and cooperation, New York became America’s crown jewel. Michael Bloomberg was hardly the darling of the African-American community when he first took office, but over his tenure he won many over. The “can do” attitude that triumphed in New York came together when warring factions finally learned to work together. What happened that made such a cooperative spirit appear in New York City and disappear from our national political arena? How did we get so fragmented? I mean, not to frighten anyone, but Donald Trump will not be winning over the African-American community, or any other community to whom Jesus might have taken a liking. Is Trump really the best we can do? Come on people, it’s almost February.
Our nation changed quickly on marriage equality, but it did not happen because of the legislative branch of our national government. They cannot agree on how to change a light bulb. It was a judicial decision. But the Supreme Court cannot bring massive change to an entire nation. Only the people can.
Is it possible to have a nation turn around as quickly as New York? I believe it is. I believe it is possible to focus on people, the planet, peace, and poverty, and arrive at solutions that are financially viable and socially sensible. I believe it is possible to create a more resilient nation in which snow actually gets plowed because we finally realize we are all in this together.
New York was at work Monday because New Yorkers learned to work together. Washington was not at work. We all know the reason. I’ve not been much involved in the political process. Maybe it is time to reconsider.