It's funny how the things we often hate are the things that later seem to change our lives. There's a line in a John Ashberry poem called "Light Turnouts". I hated that poem, but for years, a line stuck with me. I had no idea why, no idea what it meant, and absolutely no idea what the hell the poem was saying. And yet that line stayed: "You've no mansion for this to happen in."
Years later, living in England, I took a walk with friends, as the crow flies. It was a foggy, misty, November morning, the marshlands wet and boggy. We hitched through the mud and marsh, past the broads and the river through the fields and into small villages. No one seems to mind you walking through their property in England. Horses were out in the fields, and I was just trying to navigate around the puddles.
We came upon a field, surrounded by woods-- maybe 3 or 4 acres of land. Smack in the center was one of the largest greenhouses I have ever seen, and older-- all the glass was in small panes. There was no door, just a double wide opening big enough for a tractor to pull through, though I doubt one ever did. And inside?
Beginning of winter in England, cold and damp, in rich farming country, and there was not a single thing in that greenhouse. No seeds, no bulbs, nothing but soil. Deep, rich, dark, moist soil. And in that moment, I knew what luxury was. I was looking at it.
My friends pulled at me, but I wasn't ready. That line came back to me, that ashberry line of so many years before. "You've no mansion for this to happen in." And suddenly, I understood it.
We need to build the spaces in which we live. Ourselves, the architects of whatever is to become of those dreams, of those moments, of those possibilities. But we have to have the space, to create something big enough that we can succeed and fail, use some of it, or small portions at a time. We have to create the space in which we live. And that space has to be big enough so as to not limit us.
I keep driving around the city lately. Long afternoon drives after school through the North Side. Meandering mornings journeys down by the river along S. Broadway. So much space, beautiful, beautiful space, and yet we are not the architects of our future. There are so many things we have to build in St. Louis, and I am not speaking of just structures. There are so many things we have to create room for if we want to do anything, to go anywhere, to be anything. We have to create the space for that possibility, and drive our own desire and urgency for change.
My suggestion: we need to start with race. We need to create a space in which we can discuss race. A space in which race is not evened out or equaled out, but one in which race matters-- because it does. We need a space to understand and appreciate our differences and decide how we want to live. This city is so rich, so full of vibrancy, and yet we live in 1/3 of its potential, in all ways. We're not going to get anywhere until we look at how big a mansion we could have, and we start to build the place in which it can all happen. My eyes are open, and I'm looking to talk about the space.
We have the luxury of that greenhouse in England, abandoned, where so much can take place. It just hasn't occurred to us there should be something there yet.