I believe in visiting the old neighborhood. It humbles me, it grounds me and it inspires me.
It is a simple act really, bringing my body back to the place more familiar than any other. As I drive pass former hangouts and hideouts on the way back to the old neighborhood, memories, emotions and lessons learned come flooding back to me. Some details remain just as I remember them, while much else has changed. This used to be my entire world.
When I look out from the steps of my parents’ house on the corner, I think about all the times I waited on that corner for rides as a teenager and college student. I think about the insecurity and excitement of that time in my life. I think about the hours spent on public transit before any friends had a car. I think about the strangers I shared train cars with and wonder how many are still riding those trains. I am humbled.
While standing outside and looking at my parents’ well-maintained home, I remember the times spent grudgingly mowing the lawn and shoveling the walkways and sidewalks. I think about how hard my parents worked to maintain their little piece of property, a little twin home on a corner. I used to wonder why they put forth so much effort to maintaining their humble home, but when an old neighbor walks past and offers me a smile I have my answer. When we moved here, there were only two other Asian families in the entire neighborhood. My parents saw our home maintenance as a way to illustrate our values as a family and as neighbors. Twenty years later, neighbors stop to chat and compliment the home as my parents spend time caring for their garden just as they have for the past 21 years. I am grounded.
When I drive down the main street I think about the countless walks home from grade school with friends down this street. I think about that brutal winter in fourth grade when a young homeless man, 25 at most, would frequently ask my friend and I for spare change. I remember feeling compassion for a “big kid” who was so desperate that he needed to ask kids 15 years younger for help. We helped with what we had. I also remember the feeling of bumping into that same young man a half-year later. He thanked my friend and I, introduced us to his mother, and told us that we helped him get through some rough times and that he was now back home and working. I am inspired.
I believe visiting the old neighborhood is a necessity to me. It tells me all that I am and all that I am not. I can revisit chapters of my life story while simply sitting at a red light. Who knew the distance between two stop signs could be so profound?