Saturday, August 28, 2010

We’ve Earned The Right To Be Civil

I went to high school in Alexandria, VA, when the schools ... well, everything, really, was segregated. Not far by miles from where I lived there was a “Negro” neighborhood. Nauck has a proud heritage in the Black community, I’ve since learned. I never ventured there back in 1958. I remember being very curious as to how these people I never saw might be different. The rule seemed to be that I didn’t “belong” there, that my presence would have been an intrusion. I remember feeling some sense of melancholy about that, but I followed the rules.

I live much closer to that neighborhood now and sometimes walk through it. It’s still mostly Black folks and, at times, I still feel like I’m intruding, though much has changed … nearby hi-rise buildings, new contemporary-styled low-income housing, and a few three-story brick townhomes. Housing as old as I am – and older -- still sits there, too. In 2010, Nauck looks a lot like a lot of neighborhoods.

On my walk his morning, Nauck hammered me with the passage of time. Much of what appears there today looks slightly “old-fashioned.” I suspect it’s because the population is growing older. Today, the residents are apt to be my age, are apt to have grown up simultaneously with, if not near, me in segregated Virginia. Separated as I was back then, aging has made me contemporary with many of the Nauck residents. Television means we have now spent most of our lives together, in the same larger society.

On my walk, I passed an older gentlemen as he was opening up his T.V. repair shop. I’m quite sure he and I must have been high school students at the same time. I said “Good morning,” and he spoke back, friendly. I said, “It’s cool this morning.” He said, “Oh yes. MUCH cooler than yesterday.”

There was an old-time civility about this man. I suppose some younger generations would describe his soft, agreeable way negatively, but they’re wrong. The man who runs the T.V. repair is a gentlemen. I wonder if he also shakes his head at the cyclists zooming by, or chuckles at the decked-out joggers running with iPods. I wonder if he feels the same sense of loss I do. His neighborhood has changed completely. Not as many people sit on the front porch, mostly nobody says “Good morning” unless you say it first. It’s a different time.

Collectively, we may have earned civil rights (though I’m not too sure about that, frankly). I think we’ve also learned to think we have the right to be UNcivil. I wonder if my cohort feels it too. The next time I see him, I’m going to talk to that man. I’m going to stop and say, “Do you remember when….”

I hope we’ve both earned that.

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