Like a Lover

A recent article by Time Magazine said a few true things and a number of annoying and even offensive things about my beloved Detroit. It got me to thinking all over again how much I love that city, and so I looked up a little piece I wrote when I moved from there.

Dec. 12, 2007

Oh Detroit. Here I am, back again already, but only for another two weeks before really leaving, and maybe just plain not coming back.

How can I explain this city that I love? When I was in Portland, I had dinner with a friend who was reading a book by a Detroiter. He was frustrated because it seemed the fellow couldn’t articulate much in the way of the nature of this city. My friend felt sure other Detroiters would get the cultural references, but he didn’t think the book was accessible to a general audience.

Well, how could it be? I have never been able to explain this place to anyone who has never lived here. And people who grew up here can’t even explain it to someone like me who has lived here for five years.

Race is surely a big part of the obstacle. When a city is 85% black, then it turns out that a lot of white people really like to hear you tell them that it is also a city chock full of crime and poverty. I don’t just mean the bigots; probably most of us like to assume at some level that we belong to a set of people that are superior to other sets of people. We dress this assumption up as politely as possible, but really plenty of white people do seem to smile all too knowingly when I talk about Detroit’s many problems.

Of course, it’s not just a city of problems. I think the problems are what cause the most immediate culture shock to country girls like me, and so when I try to explain how different it is to live in Detroit as opposed to living absolutely anywhere else I’ve ever lived (which does include some but not much in the way of other urban locales) I find the crime an easy place to start. Tell people about all the murders right on my block and most of my friends and family immediately understand that my part of Detroit is not like the place they live. But when I realize how firmly they have grasped the distinction, I also realize that I have lost the ability to describe my great love for this city.

And honestly, the things I love are not easy to describe, because while it is true that I love the fact that one of the world’s most precious organs is housed in a dilapidated theatre in the red light district of Southwest Detroit and also true that I love the fact that one time I watched a guy try REALLY HARD to steal an enormous concrete tube from a worksite and that if he had even been successful in moving that tube an inch he still would have never been able to get it all the way to his car and even if he could have it was a COMPACT car and could not have possibly held the enormous tube and also true that I love the art museum and the incredible street art and community gardens and also true that I even love that one day a giant table top fell out of the sky and smashed my car window, none of these nor all of these together justify the love that swells in my heart for this city.

I have loved Detroit the way I love a person. It has qualities I admire, and a personality that can be annoying at times, and I take it for granted quite a bit, and then it will do something so quirky that my heart just swells with unaccountable love. Sometimes I find out something so stupid about it that I wonder what I’ve been doing with it for so long, other times it is so remarkable that I am swept off my feet all over again.

Like a love for a person, the topic can only be of marginal interest to people not feeling that love. And like a lover, I never tire of wanting to explain the nature of the feeling.

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One Response to “Like a Lover”

  1. Marilyn Penttinen Says:

    It is an irrational love. But I keep coming home, and I love it. There is something special that we are richer for.

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