Some days I work part time in the South Bronx.
It is one of the most dilapidated parts of Bronx, a borough of New York City.
Most people don’t know that New York City is comprised of five boroughs and that Harlem is in Manhattan and quite expensive.
“The hub” is the retail heart of the South Bronx, located where four roads converge: East 149th Street, Willis, Melrose and Third Avenue. In the 1930s the Hub had movie palaces and vaudeville theaters and a few decades after it became a national symbol of urban decay.
I have witnessed some extreme poverty in my life given my travels and work in legal and education fields. I have seen five children eating out of one plate in a village near Lahore located next to a swamp where the city dumps trash without regard to the people living there. I have also seen a family of eight living in a shack—literally a box— in a “shanty town” near Jo’burg in South Africa. Of course I don’t offer these statements as representative of the entire country. Some of the wealthiest people I have ever encountered in my work and travels are from the many so called “developing countries.”
Poverty has neither skin color nor geographic boundaries and is not always material. All this is to say: and yet! And yet I have never seen a group of people so hardened by poverty as in the South Bronx. Only here have I come across a population that borders on glorifying some of the harshest conditions. Unlike in the so called “developing countries” here I seldom bump across any humility.
I came across a photo essay recently via Mother Jones titled “Portraits of Addiction: A Manhattan banker shoots portraits of drug abuse, sex work, and homelessness in the Bronx.” It is all very accurate. Please do take the time to take a peek there.
I don’t ignore it—I can’t!—and I am not immune to any of it.
I took the photos below walking along Third Avenue long before I read the aforementioned article. As anyone who knows me, or is familiar with the Vault, knows I am often taking and sharing photos of ordinary streets, walls, and objects. After reading the article and seeing the portraits I thought some of my photos—albeit inanimate—could offer what else I see when I am in the South Bronx.
I believe the images that exist of South Bronx are true and in their own way beautiful despite the stories of dispirited reality.
I think with light we can show how a story can be, not just how it is.
Most days, even the sunniest and brightest days, this is how everything and everyone looks: departed shadows inside bodies on automatic pilot.
I am grateful for the blue sky when it chooses to clean itself blue. It is always gray in that little pocket or so it seems. Maybe because no one looks up enough…
I don’t think all places are pretty. I think a place we neglect has a way of hardening us that is beyond our scope of understanding. We do it to small places, we do it to our earth. I know people who go all over the world to ‘help’ and offer aid across continents and won’t work in their own cities or towns. I don’t blame them. It really is too close to home sometimes and it hits a nerve every time. And sometimes the only way to continue is to become numb to it. But I see light naturally. I don’t look for it. It is as if there is some magnet within that alerts me to it. I believe that magnet for light is within all of us. I just walk slower…
Today I came home and checked my mailbox and was delighted to find The Sun Magazine. I flipped open to the last page like I always do with any magazine as I walked up the stairs. The following quote brought tears to my eyes because of impeccable timing. Oh sweet sweet synchronicity! This hammock made of serendipitous synchronizations is a grand comfort as our collective humanity trembles.
We are made for Light. There are moments of perfect happiness, moments when one feels so well, at peace with oneself and with others. Such moments of fullness exist. They are rare, perhaps, but we have all experienced them. Each of us is capable of living such moments. They continue to send signals to us even when we are in despair. ~ Jacques Gaillot
Once inside my apartment I flipped open to the beginning where there is always an insightful interview. The April issue offers “Julia Butterfly Hill: On Activism, Tax Resistance, And what She Learned from a Thousand-Year-Old Redwood” by Leslee Goodman.
Julia Butterfly Hill:
I feel I have no right to demand that change if I’m not constantly looking to see how I can lighten my own footprint. It’s not about judgment or moralism or perfection. It’s about integrity. The word integrity shares the same root as integral. Both refer to how things are connected. I constantly look for ways that I’m becoming disconnected from my vision for the world.
It’s impossible not to make a difference. Every choice we make leads either toward health or toward disease; there’s no other direction. The question is not “How can I, one person, make a difference?” The question is “What kind of difference do I want to make?”
I am looking forward to the rest of the April issue.
Most people don’t understand that the purpose of yoga, meditation, all our experiences, the tiny moments, the big ones, everything, is integration. We can’t be ‘aware’ in one area of our lives and betray our consciousness in another. We don’t always succeed but through ‘practice, practice, practice’ ultimately integration is the goal if one can even call it a ‘goal’. Integration is oneness.
As Marco Rojas teaches during yoga practice: if you can hold the “posture that is stable and comfortable, strong and sweet” it “leads to courage which is the foundation for integrity.”
What is integrity? As explained to a four-year-old: doing the right thing when no one is looking.
What’s the ‘right’ thing? We always know if we hang out long enough in Stillness.
And sometimes we find Stillness in the most cracked corners.