[I apologize if I just killed German all by myself.]
The advertising campaign for the Philadelphia tourist bureau right now is “With Love, Philadelphia.” They have all these dorky billboards with letters written by Philadelphia to the tourists. (Like this one that made me cringe because it sounds like me. Begins with “dear dahling.”) But all the banners have “with love, Philadelphia” like the closing on a letter but in various languages. It ocurred to me that while Philly is busy courting its tourists, I don’t think it’s writing love letters to its citizens. So I wanted to write one – a letter, if not a love letter, an apology, at least.
I’ve noticed you ghosting around the Rite Aid and the CVS and the corner of Broad and Cecil B. Moore. Your toothless shadows with hands outstretched. You’ve asked me for change, sardines and, on one occasion, a hug. And I’m sorry, Philly, but I just couldn’t give it to you. I don’t know that it would help. But every time I said no, a little piece of my heart shaved off and fluttered down on the blazing sidewalk. I could see the rough concrete wearing holes in your shoes and eventually wearing holes in the skin on your soles – bruising your heels, like your own personal adversary.
I walked by you, Philly, and I just wanted to say, I’m sorry. I know you didn’t start out this way, a piece of human detritus, laying on the ground with the newspapers. I know you didn’t want it to be this way. When you were a little wide-eyed kid with curly hair, pudgy limbs and wee, slightly agape lips, you didn’t see this as your future. When you were a little kid, strangers smiled at you. That’s gotta be in the back of your mind, Philly, when strangers glare, pass on the other side and act as though they’re deaf to your voice alone.
I’m so sorry, Philly. I’m sorry for whatever it was that cast you out on the street. Whether the churches didn’t care for your soul or the shelters for your body or whether the schools didn’t care for your mind; if there was no one to feed you, no one to save you or no one to fix you, I am sorry. And me giving you a handful of change or a can of sardines doesn’t even begin to make up for what we’ve all done to you; we’ve turned you into living piece of trash, a hollowman.
While I can offer no excuse for how we’ve treated you, we’re trying to make it right. We’re committing to teaching your children, and some of us are striving to make sure that they have hot meals and others of us just want them to know they’re loved and they aren’t destined for the dustbin. So while I feel that I can’t do much for you, who has been chucked to the side and left for ashes and dust, it’s not with the feeling that it’s always been this way and always will be this way.
To all the people on the sidewalk in Philadelphia,
All my love, with apologies,