Upon my recent return to the city, fresh from a tropical vacation in Miami, I was cold-cocked all over again by the magnitude of this place, by the people who call it home and by the profound affect Los Angeles has on the psyche and the soul. They call it the City of Angels, this invasive metropolitan sprawl that never sleeps. When I first moved here, now coming upon 6 years ago, I was not prepared for just how much the city itself would overtake me. Its insistent electric energy surged through the cracks in the window, under the locked doors of our home, poking and prodding ever pervasive. I hated this place then. Though I am native to the area, born in Orange County and a former resident of Riverside County, I was not prepared for the harsh reality of LA. I worried about my decision to be here in the thick of it; I questioned the choice to establish myself here in this City of fallen Angels.
Now I sit before my window overlooking Elysian Valley, Cypress Parque y Frog Town. I think of how far I have come in accepting my place in this mayhem, my indelible mark left on the lives of my students…some of them now making it, working, attending college, universities…some of them lost in the shadows and some of them dead. I think of the curve of the river nearest our home and of the homeless and the village they build there year after year only to be cleared out by the police year after year. I think of the crazy drugged wanderers in deep conversations with themselves, shitting on the sidewalk in the midst of rush hour traffic. And I know we have nearly seen it all. I think of the many women who push their children in strollers through the very same neighborhoods that awaken mid-night to the rapid, unnerving sound of gunfire. I think of the glowing beauty of this city after rain, of the hawks circling in blue skies above my home, and of the people who give their lives for the improvement of this community, our community, and I am moved by just how much this city tattoos the spirit.
I must pause, then, in my rambling and wonder just what kind of impression this city leaves upon us. It surely changes one. For, I now embrace the essence of it whereas I once resisted it. There was a time when I denied any affinity to it however, now…well, I love this city. And though it is a hurricane on the heart, it has its seasons of calm, subtle blooming. It is not without its stunning beauty. I find myself defending my city, its complex demographic, its grit and glory. Flipping through the images of Los Angeles cached in my mind, those horrible images of desperation juxtaposed with those images of the city that gently take your breath away and send you soaring, I can only turn them over and over, lovingly glimpsing the light in each. Thus, I am left musing…without any real answers to the questions I hold…
Do these images and experiences brought to us by this city make us inured? Do they callous over our hearts making us impervious to shock or shame? Or do these still pictures that make up the story of our lives vault us into acceptance, into a tolerance lined with a deeper wisdom and understanding of human nature? Is this city our destroyer, our maker or both? The only solid ground I can feel under the foot of my thoughts about Los Angeles is that it is a place in a time that makes those of us who truly call it home…different.