My wife and I took our granddaughter to New York City, as a gift to celebrate her coming-of-age Bat Mitzvah birthday. We spent five nights smack dab in the middle of the Theater District and went to shows every night. The lights of Times Square, and the incredible Broadway productions still inspire awe for a first-timer. Through the eyes of my granddaughter, I revisited the magic of my youth.
During the day, we toured the City: Battery Park, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and then up to Washington Heights, my old neighborhood. We visited my family— they still live on the same block and belong to the same Orthodox community. I showed my granddaughter my old tenement building and told her about the old gang, the hangouts and the hideouts. She listened, but it was clear that her enthusiasm was considerably less than mine in telling the stories.
She shopped 5th Avenue with her Grandmother (it’s not my thing so I arranged to meet them later, at the NY Public Library). I thought I’d sip a cappuccino in Bryant Park, read the paper, and reminisce. I was itching to tell my granddaughter about this place and the dates I used to meet here; however, once she arrived, she was ready to continue her jaunt up the Avenue.
I don’t discourage easily, so when we got to Central Park, I pointed out “Strawberry Fields” named in John Lennon’s honor. “He was one of the Beatles, and he was assassinated right in front of that apartment building,” I said, pointing to the Dakota. She didn’t recognize Lennon’s name, or the song, but knew the Beatles and asked how much further to the Museum of Natural History.
I am an incurable romantic. I believe the telling of stories connects us to a past of meaning (I also believe in galaxies far, far away, the glory of heroes, and in miracles). It didn’t matter how spellbound I was by the reminiscences of my idealized youth, my granddaughter was less captivated by my recitation, than she was in living her own experience.
This is the obvious, albeit painful truth: all history is the history of our own time (which is why we are destined to repeat so much of it). Children of each generation must experience their own successes and failures, joys, sorrows, and pain, if they are to make sense of their life’s journey.
The same day I pointed out Strawberry Fields to my granddaughter, the children’s home in Liverpool, England called “Strawberry Fields” (which inspired Lennon to write the song) closed its doors. That building will crumble, the songwriter is dead, but the melody survives, and that is the other truth. If you can provide a good melody, those who follow can write their own lyrics.
As long as the lights of Broadway can inspire dreams, there will be Strawberry Fields forever.