Presence of the Past

Detroit of late seems to be revisiting its past, as if making up for lost time


A face that could stop a clock — not usually a good thing.

But around the city, carved faces anchored to buildings defy time. From their architectural perch, they’ve observed us over time in stony, almost smug, silence as we scurry about at street level, chasing days that pass with dismaying speed.

Sculptural visages may have the 33,000-feet view, to use a business-speak term, but we humans have the ability to unfasten our seat belts and move about the streets. Do we take advantage of that freedom? Probably not often enough.

When we step away from the to-do lists, we find that past and present mingle, giving us the sensation of time slowing down.

I spied a mailbox on a side street the other day. Its arched blue hulk perched atop four thin legs stood out as such a throwback that it got me halfway wondering whether a letter mailed there would be postmarked from the past.

I’m writing from the past at this moment. Fourth of July sparklers are still in their boxes. The personal summer mosquito-bite count is still low enough to know the number (five). Rubber flip-flops haven’t been heaped in a clearance-bin hodgepodge of colors and unpopular sizes. And there’s still time for the Tigers to rise in the standings.

A lot can happen in a month: a highly anticipated Supreme Court decision, a twist in a local murder mystery, engagements, deaths.

As the daily calendar squares zip by, a calamity can make the mundane memorable and bring time to a seeming halt. This week, while a neighbor was out mailing a letter, her too-young husband was stricken, taking his last breath of air on this sweet earth — on his own well-tended piece of the planet.

Among the dwellings in our little corner of things, household obligations fell by the wayside. Stunned neighbors talked and talked, making everyone wonder what we’d all planned to do on those summer nights that was so important anyway.  

What else will have happened by the time these words become ink on paper? There will be those small occurrences that pass unnoticed. High-pitched voices of children will float across summer lawns. Someone will be buoyed by a random compliment. Ice cream at the neighborhood stand will give its moment of pleasure.

Detroit of late seems to be revisiting its past, as if making up for lost time. A version of the former Downtown Detroit Days appeared. In honor of the days when Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington played Detroit, jazz concerts were planned for downtown’s Paradise Valley District (Harmonie Park).

One can only hope that our summer reruns have a new and happy ending. That might be more likely if we do something other than just watch.

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