“All cities are like Troy in their potential to mingle tragedy and the commonplace, Homer knew. Brown reaches toward that knowledge without flinching. Though ambivalent as her photographs must be, she shows us flawed towns being made that may claim someone’s allegiance, temporarily answer their longing, and yet persist in memory. Homer know such places were as sacred as they were vulnerable — New Jerusalems turning into Troys.” (D.L. Waldie)
The phrase that caught my eye was “temporarily answer their longing.” Waldie is commenting on a series of photographs of new subdivisions in process, the new indelibly flawed from the outset.
Lately, developers have bought up a wooded tract near my home, not much more than a stone’s throw away, all that was left of a country road neighborhood. They removed the Sixties-era houses set back among the trees, cut and stripped and shackled the great pines, and now grind their stumps into the ground and push dirt over their remains. The men who do this are not evil. We greet them most days, and they smile and look away, as if they are ashamed. Their great machinery makes short work of it. It is just their job. Now I can see the rolling topography once hidden, can already imagine how the land will drain, how the rain water will sound in the storm drains. Even the private drive that led to these homes has been taken up. The subdivision sign beckons with its verbage — “exclusive homesites.”
Mike said it made him sad. His dog Abby, a sweet German shepherd, seemed to agree, looking longingly at the barren land. I know what comes next. Grading. Water and sewer. Phone and electrical lines. Curb and gutter. Asphalt streets. The scaffolding of new homes rises. People look and dream. They don’t know what was there, will never know the families who sold out, the deer who moved quietly through the forest, the red fox who cut through wooded yards. They just hope that it will “answer their longing.” I know what that feels like, and I know it might temporarily do that.
And yet paint will peel and asphalt crack and some lawns will grow unkempt. Children will grow up and move away. Entropy. Yet it will be a place that can be loved, for a time, if held lightly, yet only a suggestion of another country, “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14 ESV). That's what I'm waiting for.