In case you're not familiar with DC's Eastern Market, it is a lovely little building tucked in the heart of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, an anchor of bricks holding down 7th street SE, C street SE and North Carolina Avenue SE.
It was built in 1873 and designed by Adolph Cluss –no doubt, a man who was so named because he was born in a time where the name was just another Scandinavian name, and no more.
The building, though much loved, had become dilapidated and dirty. And in the early hours of April 30th, 2007, it burned down, leaving little left but a smoldering hull of bricks, glass and debris.
Our collective community hearts broke. Here is something I wrote that morning.
The picture above was taken on June 26th, the day that Eastern Market rose like a salmon-colored phoenix from the ashes of that fire two years ago. Shortly after taking it, I paused to wipe my face and a fellow patron, equally moved but not nearly as embarrassingly so asked me, "Are you crying?"
"Tears of joy," I grinned.
I am so glad you're back, dear friend.
Some friends go away and come back –sometimes even better than when they left us, as is the case with Eastern Market, which is now air-conditioned, basemented, sky-lighted, properly-toileted, and originally-salmon-pinked on the inside.
And sometimes friends go away forever.
Last week we lost several famous people — Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and even OxiClean guru Billy Mays (I love OxiClean. I will forever remember Billy Mays's rough, loud voice whenever I make my laundry cleaner and brighter). In a local accident last week, we also lost nine lives in a senseless and preventable collision on the Red line.
Although death is an intrinsic part of life, it always catches us by surprise. Frankly, the responses to Michael Jackson's death to me have been a little over the top as it is my honest opinion that the genius who dazzled and entertained back in the eighties and early nineties was dead and gone almost ten years ago, and had been replaced by a ghostlike, eccentric and truly pathetic man-child who didn't see anything wrong with wearing pajamas to court after arriving three hours late. But it is still sad to see someone go at only 50 years of age, with so much wasted potential.
In my heart and mind, however, the deaths that made me saddest were those of the ordinary citizens of this adopted city with which I fell in love –a couple of whom happened to be neighbors; not the kind of close neighbors who may pick up your mail for a day or two, but the kind of neighbors you see parking their car and coming and going– the kind that you probably take for granted and may view as background, until the day you realize that a freak accident means you'll never see them driving down the street ever again or waving a warm hello at you as you unload your grocery shopping.
I don't like to think that those mourning could have been us, as Rev. Mom happened to also be using the Red Line that day. When death is truly close –not just fanatic-close– your emotions become selfish and self-preserving and complicated. It's no longer wistful or just plain emotional; suddenly, there is the mind-racing and the feeling that life will never be the same.
That is the thing about death: it's not personal, and yet it is extremely personal. And as a friend said, death is only sad to those left behind.
But the upside of death is that, along with the sadness, new life comes along. This is not always obvious when a person, a beloved, or a friend is the one who passes away. But in the case of a building, it can be easy to see what happens when we are able to turn the corner and find there is much to celebrate and much to be grateful for.
I am grateful that Eastern Market is back. And I am glad that I knew our neighbors, even if faintly. And I am glad that there were kind and brave people who were willing to help or, in the case of the very brave Metro operator who applied the emergency brake that failed, willing to stare death down doing what was right.
And so I mourn and celebrate this June of 2009, which will never again come, and I remember all the good that came of it.
Celebrate with me: what were some notable things that happened to you this June?