“My dear, dear girl [. . .] we can’t turn back the days that have gone. We can’t turn life back to the hours when our lungs were sound, our blood hot, our bodies young. We are a flash of fire–a brain, a heart, a spirit. And we are three-cents-worth of lime and iron–which we cannot get back.” –Thomas Wolfe, from Look Homeward, Angel
For all the bare-knuckled resilience there has been an air of self-defeat. Cleveland, in many respects, is used to not having anything nice. We have tended to wear our disinvestment like an old t-shirt. Our niceties, then, can turn into the comfort that comes with being used to our aching.
The ache occurred in Cleveland like it did in many Rust Belt cities. Things going good, then the equivalent of a sociological car crash: disinvestment, white flight, riots, more disinvestment, more hallowing out, followed by that notion of a legacy city limping along like a hall of famer whose existence is merely a shell holding a requirement of yesterday—before gravity hit.
And so, the past is so much a part of Cleveland that it can hurt. You can hear it in the sentiments if you listen closely. See it in the faces if you look hard enough—there, into the eyes that are like keyholes peering to a time when Downtown’s vibrancy meant you existed in a city that made you feel alive. The end of that past meant a world that existed only outside of one’s childhood haunts—a world of the suburbs, the Sun Belt, the South.
Cleveland became dead to many. It still is dead to many. Because instead of letting go people grew into the grounding realization that the City was never coming back. No wonder, for so long, it didn’t.
But there’s hope. The children of this generation have become intrigued by the centers of their ancestral history. From an upbringing in homogeneity they sense an opportunity to get down—and to piece together the scene of the crash. They can because they don’t see Cleveland through yesterday’s regrets. Instead they see it for what it is: an architecturally beautiful vessel that has been waiting with tapping fingers to be filled in for some time.
Not exactly a case of youth being wasted on the young. Maybe this renewed vibrancy can allow past generations to see there’s a future, even in their want for a past that can’t ever come back.