Thursday, July 5, 2007

Ancestors in Training

Older people have always scared me. Wrinkles, gray hair, the looks of agony as arthritis takes hold of a bone. They force me to think of my own mortality. Nevermind the fact that most of the folks I know who've passed have been taken in some tragic, unexpected way, years before their time. To me, aging has always been taking one step closer to dying. But I've never been afraid of death.

Aging to me is the slow process of everything, and everyone, becoming an antecedent. The heart and essence of people get lost in time until they become moments of deja-vu. Everything is fresh when you're young, experiencing it for the first time, and it's confusing for me to think that life is the repetition of cycles over which we have no control.

I've never liked the word "gentrification" because it sounds like something far too clinical for a process that murders generations of souls. But today I walked past the old record shop on Hayes that's now home to an organic healing center that doubles as a tattoo parlor, and it hit me. This process of uprooting communities is a slow, painful genocide. Death knocks on your door in the form of eviction notices and foreclosures. Memories become "ghetto", "violent" and "prone to drug addicted behavior". Every three blocks is marked with "historic district", the city sanctioned tombstone that makes maintenance too expensive and pride too elusive. Year by year, buildings are snatched away and remodeled so that even the few who remain don't even recognize their memories anymore. They become bitter and hostile, aging much faster than the rest. Some go insane by way of injections or pipes or bottles or God. Who can blame them when their memories don't belong to them anymore?

I'm not afraid of death, but I am afraid of its process. The physical pain, yes. But it's more this process of becoming an antecedent. The past triumphs over the present moment. I haven't decided if that's a good or bad thing, and it's this indecision that makes me quiver. I believe in respecting the past, but fear I'll tread that line a little too closely and become one of the insane whose reality differs from everyone else's. I can't help but laugh at that, though, because in my 22 years I'm still so consumed with the opinions of others.

For better or worse, this process of death still frightens me. I don't know who to blame: the ailments, for striking so selfishly; the body, for fighting so pitifully; or age, for being one of those undeniable truths we're never meant to understand until we're knocking on death's door.

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