Monday, October 6, 2008

Grandpa Len and Papa Tony

Unlike many people, I walk to and from work (when I go into the office). Walking provides a unique perspective, because no matter how fast your legs move you can never quite whiz by a building or speed past a city block like you can in a car. Today's walk took me past the former home of Jordan Marsh (now a Macy's) and the massive construction underway there, and on my walk home I passed along the Rose Kennedy Parkway which has transformed Boston so radically it is hard to appreciate in words without the benefit of pictures.

In both instances it made me think of two men who have since passed; my grandfathers. My Dad's father worked for years at Jordan Marsh and my Mother's father worked in and near Boston his entire life. As I was walking today, I wondered what their reactions would be if they were able to see the city as it is now. I know that they would recognize these neighborhoods, but I wondered what they would make of the changes.

My father's Dad passed away in the late 1970s when Boston and many cities around the United States were hitting rock bottom. The neighborhood that bordered Jordan Marsh was considered Boston's Red Light District (aka - The Combat Zone) and was both unsavory and unsafe. Now Downtown Crossing and the Ladder District (as it has become known) is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts and the Combat Zone is all but forgotten. The Ritz Carlton Hotel and Luxury Residences anchor the former Combat Zone and a half dozen other developments have popped up in recent years including the rebirth of two theaters - The Opera House and the Paramount Theater. These changes would have been inconceivable to my Grandpa Len in the 1970s.

Later in the day when I was walking home, I was admiring how beautiful Boston looked. I wondered what my Mother's father (a savvy real estate investor) would have made of the greenway and all the development that is currently ongoing. For sure, several of the newer buildings in downtown would make him comment (for better or worse - I'm not sure), but overall I think he would be brimming with pride. Unlike my Dad's father, "Papa", as I liked to call him did start to see Boston's rebirth, although none of us would have predicted how far that would ultimately go and how much the city would benefit from the economic and development boom.

I think too often we are so caught up with the present or obsessing about our future that we only think of the past with tinged regret or with passing indifference (i.e. after a loved one passes, if we wished we had done something differently, etc...) Walking to work this morning and back home today was unexpectedly pleasant as I imagined my make-believe conversations with my two grandfathers. I wonder sometimes if it is that rare instance when your past and present intersect so perfectly leaving one so completely content that we are 'touched by an angel' to borrow a common phrase. I've not thought about either man in quite awhile but on my walk this morning and this evening I felt as if both men were walking by my side. It made my commute far more pleasurable than I ever would have anticipated.

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