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The Village Green: Alive and Well

by Mary Domb Mikkelson

MaryDombMikkelson3It was pure nostalgia:  small town America at play, a village green bursting with life and music on a hot summer day.   Children splashed about in the fountain, one accompanied by a shaggy mutt seeking relief from the mugginess.  There were strolling musicians, canopied pedal-propelled carriages, promenading couples, picnickers and balloons, and, not far away, a carousel – a halcyon portrait of summer fun circa 1890 to 1950 or so.  Think Milford, New Hampshire’s Oval and lovely Pillsbury Bandstand, re-imaged in laid-back southern California.

I wasn’t, however, on the banks of the Souhegan River; I was in bustling San Diego, population 1,399,000.  No small town, this.

Nursing a large lemonade, I settled in to enjoy some world-class people watching.   The “good old days,” 1940s movie musical style, were, it appeared, alive and well.  About the only thing missing was Judy Garland singing ‘With my high starched collar and my high topped shoes and my hair piled high upon my head…”

The illusion continued, even as anomalies crept into my consciousness.

Old black and white photos show long ago visitors to Balboa Park’s Prado dressed quite formally, gentlemen in suits, ties and hats, ladies’ gowns accented with hats and gloves.  Not so in late July, 2014:  colorful California casual and tee-shirt “billboards” (from the sacred to the profane) were the order of the day.  California casual PLUS, the PLUS including burqas and thobes, a Hare Krishna’s saffron robe, yarmulkes, a kilt and, on one young girl, a gingham bonnet straight out of Little House on the Prairie.  There were wildly patterned socks, flip flops galore, the occasional bikini, long peasant skirts, Latex cycling shorts, gals and guys with neon hair – pink, green, vivid blue, even a nun’s robe or two.

Wandering the Prado were two musicians – a top-notch saxophonist on foot, a didjeridu artist by bicycle (an interesting balancing act, that).    Their music was accompanied by the sounds of skateboards landing on concrete, the sales pitch of a balloon artist creating animals, swords and hearts for happy youngsters, the excited chatter of children and the hum of conversation.

One conversation, unabashedly overheard, was pure 21st Century with an overlay of 19th.  A 40ish couple on a first and carefully public date (eHarmony.com?  Match?  Our Time?), learning everything they could about each other over a picnic provided by him.  Picture it:  a floral table cloth, a board rich in cheeses and grapes, assorted salads, proper silverware and china!   The lady was definitely impressed.   (I, on the other hand, had acquired an order of “dirty chips” for my al fresco dining pleasure, served, of course in a cardboard packet.)

Also present were two street people, wandering trash can to trash can (one refused a young child’s offer to share) and clusters of summer camp kids, age denoted by shirt color, loosely corralled by their counselors into posing for group photos beside the fountain.  Old people, young people, folks in the middle, brand-new babies on first outings…  People of every color and race…gay, straight…limber, wheelchair-bound, PEOPLE in all their rich diversity.   21st Century America at play on a “village green bursting with life and music on a hot summer day.”

The more things change…

It’s easy to look upon the past with yearning, to see the innocence (if ever such there was) of “the good old days,” to want to reclaim bygone glories.  The human kaleidoscope of the Prado suggests that is exactly what we are doing.  All the great foundational elements – friends, love, fun, family, sharing – were present in the park and exciting in the memories their newness evoked.

That’s how I see the church, too – THE church and our church.  “Onward, Christian soldiers…we are treading where the saints have trod.”  The future, buttressed by the past, awaits us.  May we welcome it and the human kaleidoscope of an emerging church with the same joyous cry prescribed for Benedictine monks answering a knock on the monastery door:  “Thanks be to God!”

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