There is a magnificent Presbyterian church in New York being hassled by its neighbors who’re tired of the scaffolding that’s been standing for fifteen years. The scaffolding is there because the building is falling apart, and the little congregation is dwindling and can’t afford the repairs. They’d like to sell the property and let the buyers demolish the church and put up a 19-story condo tower. But the Landmark Commission doesn’t want this building, a landmarked 1890 Romanesque Revival masterpiece, to be replaced by a filing cabinet. Meanwhile attendance is fading because who wants to go to church and be struck by a fifty-pound chunk of sandstone?
I favor demolition. There is nothing holy about a building, the Holy Spirit moves freely in and out of buildings, people can feel God’s grace wherever they happen to be. If the building were preserved and sold to Pizza Hut and ovens placed where the altar used to be and the organ automated to play Metallica and Black Sabbath, how does this serve the common good?
Tear it down before it kills somebody. Time moves on, so move with it.
I say this as a very old man who is not landmarked but doing my best to avoid demolition. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, said the apostle Paul, and so far, the temple is intact. Some days I feel like sixty and sometimes I’m closer to fifteen. I have no idea what eighty would feel like. I use a cane only as an affectation: it makes me feel European.
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I know I’m on the last stretch, but I intend it to be a cheerful stretch. I am married to the woman I love and after three years of pandemic isolation with her, I adore her. This desert island suits me. But she is more sociable, so we need to ease back into normal life and have people over for lunch, maybe take up cribbage, go bowling, attend lectures where you break up into discussion groups, those sorts of things. I sense her restlessness. Sometimes she goes into the back bedroom, and I hear peals of girlish laughter, shrieks of delight, as she talks to friends on the phone — does it make me jealous? Yes, of course.
We need to befriend younger people. I’ve gone to birthday parties for octos and heard all about someone’s prostate problems or kidney stones and hip replacements and of course colonoscopies. I’ve been colonoscopied and it was no big deal. Yes, the liquid you drink the day before tastes like used motor oil. But so what? I choose to be cheerful. Let’s talk about happy memories such as the narrow pews in my church, which, when I twist to kneel on the kneeler, reminds me of the girl I used to neck with in the back seat of her VW.
Sometimes I regret my old age but then I think of my dear friend who died when he and I were 17. He rented a boat and went out on a lake with a girl he was in love with and when she dove into the water, he dove after her, forgetting that he could not swim, and he drowned. He got only a slice of life, he missed out on sex and fatherhood and the pleasure of vocation, and I got the whole helping and await seconds.
So many heroes of my generation died young, Buddy Holly, James Dean, Jim Morrison, Janis, Jerry, Elvis. They were done in by celebrity and delusion and you and I outlived them to come to this point where we delight in the ordinary. I lie in bed and am awakened by the light and rise up to the new day and do my business and drink coffee and my wife tells me what’s in the morning paper and I go for a walk and people ask me how I’m doing, and I say, “Never better.” I sit in the evening drinking ginger tea and watching baseball with the sound off, two teams I don’t care about, and I edit whatever I wrote today while admiring the pitcher’s windup, the reflexive agility of infielders, the occasional long loping leaping outfield catch that steals a triple and kills the rally and the fielder casually tosses the ball into the stands and trots to the dugout.
Tear down the stone pile. Sell the lots for millions and give it to the poor. Let the faithful meet in someone’s home, as the disciples did. A new day dawns. Don’t look back.